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That would be a key credential, given that Swanigan is trying to become the county’s top prosecutor by winning the two-way Democratic primary on Aug. 9, 2016. No Republican is running.
But although she worked with prosecutors in the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office in California, even Swanigan doesn’t say she worked as a prosecutor. Neither does the office.
What the ad says
The ad is sponsored by Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance, which the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has described as a secretive group led by longtime conservative political operative Craig Peterson. In the April 2016 City of Milwaukee elections, the group ran attack ads against Mayor Tom Barrett, who easily won re-election, and backed the opponents of at least two Milwaukee aldermen, both of whom were re-elected.
Swanigan’s latest campaign finance report, filed in July 2016, says Peterson printed $476 worth of campaign brochures for her. Her previous report says Peterson contributed $250 to her campaign and provided $1,681 in printing and food and beverages for a Swanigan fundraiser.
The ad makes several attacks on Chisholm before making the claim we’re checking. It was included in this section:
"Verona Swanigan is licensed to practice law in five states, holds a master’s degree in forensic psychology, has worked as a prosecutor, and a probation and parole officer, and she is the daughter of a 32-year veteran of the Milwaukee Police Department. She has never lost a trial. The current DA has never even taken a bar exam."
(The Journal Sentinel reported that in the only Wisconsin felony case Swanigan ever tried, a jury found her client not guilty of sexual assault of a child. As for the allusion to Chisholm, graduates of the University of Wisconsin Law School and Marquette University Law School do not have to take the bar exam to practice law in Wisconsin. Chisholm is a UW law graduate.)
As for the claim we’re checking, Peterson told us that while employed by the Fresno DA, Swanigan "filed cases, extradition motions and documentation," and made court appearances, which sounds like some of the things prosecutors do.
What they say
Fresno County Assistant District Attorney Steve Wright told us Swanigan was classified as a legal assistant/paralegal when she worked in the office from March to December 2006. He said he did not know her job duties, but that she was not a sworn prosecutor.
Swanigan had earned her law degree from Northern Illinois University in 2005, but hadn’t yet passed the California bar exam when she was hired in Fresno.
She said that under the program she worked in, she filed criminal complaints, although they were done in the name of a sworn prosecutor; and made court appearances on her own, though under the supervision of a prosecutor.
Unlike Peterson, Swanigan said she would not call herself a former prosecutor.
"I personally would not describe it that way," Swanigan told us, referring to the ad. "He could make a legal argument for it to be described that way, but I would not."
Indeed, the biographical section of Swanigan’s campaign website says she worked at the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office, but no position is listed.
Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance says in a radio ad that Swanigan "has worked as a prosecutor."
Swanigan made court appearances and assisted prosecutors in other ways when she worked in the the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office in California. But she was classified as a paralegal, not a sworn prosecutor, and does not describe herself as a former prosecutor.
We rate the statement False.
Interview and email, Craig Peterson, July 28-29, 2016
Interview, Verona Swanigan, July 29, 2016
Interview, Fresno County Assistant District Attorney Steve Wright, July 29, 2016
Verona Swanigan campaign website, biographical section, accessed July 28, 2016
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "John Chisholm faces off with Democratic challenger Verona Swanigan," July 31, 2016
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