WACDL has five awards that recognize criminal defense lawyers.

The Coffey Defender Award is to be given to an individual who has made significant contributions to professionalism in the criminal practice. There are no limitations on who may be nominated: judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, non-lawyers, legislators, elected officials, organizations, advocacy groups, etc. The contributions may be by virtue of teaching, through bar and professional activities, through cumulative career achievements, or by virtue of some specific outstanding achievement in the recent past.

Nominations for the William M. Coffey Defender Award can be made in writing directly to WACDL as described below, by letter, fax or email. There is no prescribed format for nominations. If you are nominating an individual who may not be a “household name” or whose virtues may not be readily apparent, obviously you should tell us about the person and why he or she meets the criteria.

The William M. Coffey Defender Award is voted on by the President and Ex-Presidents of WACDL

The Advocate’s Prize is awarded to those practitioners who have accomplished the rare and difficult task of winning a criminal homicide case.  The reason for making the award is to give some recognition to the good work being done by members of the criminal defense bar in representing their clients.  We are confident that most attorneys defending these serious charges do a good job regardless of the outcome, but we know that every attorney who secures an acquittal has done an outstanding job.

This prize is named for Martin Hanson, and is intended as a compliment to the recipient.  Martin Hanson was one of the finest criminal law advocates of his generation, and was a founding director of the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

The Board of Directors of WACDL decided that the Martin Hanson Memorial Prize is automatic for acquittal on any criminal homicide, and that in certain cases dismissals short of trial will be awarded based upon an evaluation of the merits by the directors from the district in which the dismissal was obtained.  The Advocate’s Prize is retroactive to Martin’s date of death in September of 1995.

Procedurally any attorney can be nominated.  Self nominations are accepted. The nomination is referred to the directors of the district who confirm the information and send it on to the Board to make the award.

Racine - State v. Brim, Racine County
Racine - State v. Peterson
Milwaukee - State v. Heller, 16 CF 191
Dane - State v. Heller,, CF CF 191
Jackson - State v. Koller, 17 CF 327
Waukesha - State v. Riegel, 1994 CF 387
- State v. Holewinski, 1995 CF 414
Dane - State v. Davis, 1996 CF 1903
Racine - State v. Carter, 1996 CF 978
Dane - State v. Zapata, 2006 CF 1996
Milwaukee - State v. Prude, 1996 CF 2441
Outagamie - State v. Bodart, 1997 CF 331
Dane - State v. Petry, 1999 CF 371
1999 - Greg Petit
Forest - State v. Werth, 1999 CF 4
Grant - State v. Meng, 1999 CF 142
Chippewa - State v. Marquardt, 2000 CF 104
Milwaukee - State v. Jones, 2000 CF 159
Dodge - State v. Johnson, 2000 CF 341
Racine - State v. Ellison, 2000 CF 480
Eau Claire - State v. Zimmerman, 2001 CF 63
2001 - John Bliss
Marathon - State v. Adam Berna, 2001 CF 124
Eau Claire - State v. Zimmerman, 2001 CF 63
Racine - State v. Garcia, 2001 CF 512, Racine County
Dodge - State v. Curry,20 02-CF-384
Chippewa - State v. Berseth, 2002 CF 195
Milwaukee - State v. Blackburn, 2003 CF 4146
2003 - Mark Frank
Dane - State v. Tate, 2003 CF 1639
Winnebago - State v. Mertz, 2003 CF 1775
Milwaukee - State vs. Rudolph, 2003-CF-4694
Milwaukee - State v. Blackburn, 2003 CF 4140
Vernon - State v. Eness, 2004 CF 119
2004 - Jeff Cano
Brown - State v. Angel-Monterrosa, 2004 CF 1120
Brown - State v. Angel-Monterrosa, 2004 CF 1120
Jefferson - State v. Dittberner, 2004 CF 147
Racine - State v. Chavez, 2004 CF 451
Racine - State v. Chavez, 2004 CF 451
2006 - Ann Bowe
Milwaukee - State v. Davis, 2006 CF 4760
Monroe - State v. Youngthunder, 2006 CF 12
Dane - State v. Zapata, 2006 CF 1996
Washington - State v. Tucholka, 2006 CF 241
Dane - State v. Kelly, 2007 CF 996
Walworth - State v. Andritsch, 2007 CF 436
Dane - State v. Kelly, 2007 CF 996
Richland - State v. Bickem-Arbegust, 2007 CF 436
Richland - State v. Blickem-Arbegust, 2007 CF 436
Walworth - State v. Brossard, 2008 CF 351
Outagamie - State v. Birr, 2008 CF 826
- State v. Ramgoolie, 2008 CF 316-X, Marion County, FL
Dunn - State v. Edgemon, 2008 CF 61
Milwaukee - State v. Lewis, 2009 CF 2893
Sheboygan - State v. Ruffin-Brand, 2009 CF 1
Oneida - State v. Bodoh, 2009 CF 79
Racine - State v. Banks, 2009 CF 624
Washburn - State v. Carsello, 2010 CF 64
Racine - State v. Morris, 2018 CF 1280
Washburn - State v. Carsello, 2010 CF 64
Milwaukee - State v. Gill, 2011 CF 4735
Pierce - State v. Brown, 2012 CF 77
2012 - Dawn Rabin
Milwaukee - State v. King, 2012 CF 2508
Milwaukee - State v. King, 2012 Cf 2508
Douglas - State v. Johnson, 2013 CF 194,
Dane - State v. Steele, 2014 CF 1680
Douglas - State v. Dunn, 2014 CF 359
Dane - State v. Steele, 2014 CF 1680
Milwaukee - State v. Johnson, Milwaukee County, 2015 CF 4331
Pierce - State v. Milberg, 2015 CF 55
Milwaukee - State v. Kattner, 2016 CF 4995
Rusk - State v. Martin, 2016 CF 70
Milwaukee - State v. Zollicoffer, 2016 CF 4227
Milwaukee - State v. Heaggan-Brown, 2016 CF 5562
Milwaukee - State v. Idris, 2016 CF 678
Milwaukee - State v. Drescher, 2016 CF 3714,
Chippewa - State v. Lloyd, 2016 CF 325
Milwaukee - State v. Washington, 2016 CF 1939
2016 - James Rael
Milwaukee - State v. Idris, 2016 CF 678
2016 - Susan Roth
Milwaukee - State v. Dean, 2016 CF 4722
Milwaukee - State v. Heaggan-Brown, 2016 Cf 5562
Milwaukee - State v. Drescher, 2016 CF 3714
Grant - Stae v. Caraus, 2016 CF 146
Milwaukee - State v. Pierce, 2017CF 5844
Dunn - State v. Jones, 2017 CF 45
Dane - State v. Bruno, 2017 CF 2769
Milwaukee - State v. Distasio, 2017 CF 4564
Milwaukee - State v. Distasio, 2017 CF 4564
Milwaukee - State v. Wilke, Milwaukee County, 2015 CF 3165
Dane - State v. Fries, Dane County, 20 17 CF 840
Iowa - State v. Valdez, 2018 CF 45
Milwaukee - State v. Collins, Milwaukee County, 2018 CF 1636
2018 - Tim Kiefer
Dane - State v, James, 2912 CF 624, 2018
Iowa - State v. Valdez, 2018 CF 45
La Crosse - State v. Sackett, 2018 CF 777
Shawano - State v. Krueger, 2019 CF 35
Milwaukee - State v. Pierce, Milwaukee County, 2017 CF 5844
Dane - State v. Coleman, 2019 CF 2818,
Columbia - State v. Kraemer, 2014 CF 409
Juneau - State v. Tetting, 2007 CF 244
Racine - State v. Smith, 2019 CF 229
Rock - State v. Davenport, 2019 CF 343
2019 - Eric Nagy
Dane - State v. Coleman, 2019 Cf 2818
Racine - State v. Smith, 2019 CF 229
Walworth - State v. Meyer, 2019 CF 464
Juneau - State v. Tetting, 07 CF 244
Walworth - State v. Meyer, 2019 CF 464
Milwaukee - State v. Eddie Gill, 2013 CF 617
Winnebago - State v. Martinez-Mendez, Case No 2020 F 609
Kenosha - State v. Rittenhouse, 2020 CF 983
Brown - State v.Cayer, 2016 CF 902
Brown - State v.Cayer, 2016 CF 902
2020 - Alex Flynn
Washington - Milwaukee, State v. Hoepner,20 97-CF-401,
Kenosha - State v. Rittenhouse, 2020 CF 983
Winnebago - State v. Martinez-Mendez, 2020 CF 609
Racine - State v. Morris, 18 CF 1280
Menominee - State v. Morris, 18 CF 1280
Saint Croix - State v. Cole, 2021 CF 191
Dane - State v. Bruno, 2017 CF 2769
2023 -
Lincoln - 2016CF000289
Dunn - 2020CF000458
Dane - 2021CF000889
Iowa - 2019CF000099
Manitowoc - 2021CF000669
Milwaukee - 2021CF003005
Milwaukee - 2020CF002838
Green - 2022CF000066
Waukesha - 2020CF001348
Marathon - 2018CF001041
Iowa - 2019CF000099
Racine - 2020CF000246
Brown - 2021CF000548
Iowa - 2019CF000100
Columbia - 2021CF000175
Trempealeau - 21CF192

Dave Niblack was Wisconsin's State Public Defender from 1979 until 1983. He died unexpectedly in the Fall of 2000, but will always be remembered by those for whom he advocated, and those he taught or befriended. He was a good friend to anyone committed to the protection of rights for the least popular among us. When our clients had no one to stand with them, Dave stood with them. He delighted in teaching young attorneys the way, and sure knew how to tell a story. Under his leadership, the SPD as we know it today survived in a period of daily attack and controversy.

To honor Dave Niblack's memory, and to encourage others to follow in his footsteps, in 2001 the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (WACDL) established the David C. Niblack Award, to be given every December at the WACDL Ethics seminar in Madison, at which Dave taught.

The purposes of this award:

To recognize the contributions of an attorney to the effective defense of the indigent, either cumulative career contributions or outstanding accomplishments.
To honor and preserve the memory of an outstanding attorney who devoted his life and considerable talents to the defense of those who needed it but could not pay for it.

Criteria: Pride and professionalism in the work; competence in provision of services; respect for the clients.

2008 - Terry Rose
2015 - Ann Bowe

WACDL is committed to promoting the proper administration of criminal justice, the protection of individual rights and due process.  WACDL can only achieve its goals through the efforts and dedication of its members. 

Ellen and Robert Henak personify service to WACDL’s goals and members.  The Henaks have served on WACDL’s Board of Directors, the Executive Committee and chaired the Amicus Committee, writing dozens of briefs supporting WACDL’s ideals. 

All WACDL members are eligible for this award upon performing outstanding service to WACDL and its goals.  This award can be bestowed by majority vote of the Board of Directors upon nomination from any WACDL member.  Further, this award may be bestowed by the President of WACDL at anytime for exemplary service. When this award is bestowed by the President, it shall contain the notation “Presidential Commendation.”

This award was created in 2021 to honor criminal defense lawyers  who have secured acquittals in cases alleging felony sexual assault of either an adult or a child.  (Specifically, any violation of Wis. Stats. 940.225(1), (2), or (3) or Wis. Stats. 948.02(1) or (2).) 

The WACDL seeks to acknowledge and honor the particular combination of sensitivity, toughness, research, and trial advocacy skills necessary to achieve acquittals in these especially challenging cases.  The laws surrounding sexual assault prosecutions are complicated and dynamic,  and typically require attorneys that try these cases to develop specialized knowledge of medical evidence such as SANE results, DNA evidence, protocols regarding videotaped interviews with child witnesses, and, of course, how to effectively pierce rape shield. 

In addition, traditional cross-examination techniques are often turned on their heads when handling witnesses that are young children or developmentally disabled, and the lawyers that are tasked with performing such cross-examinations must develop a wide range of tones and techniques to be effective in front of juries. 

As we charge further into the 21st century and the era of #metoo, the social and political implications of being charged with or convicted of sex crimes is so devastating, and the prejudice against even the accusation is so strong that committed criminal defense attorneys handling these cases face a constant uphill battle.  As such, we seek to celebrate the rare and remarkable achievement of a felony-level acquittal for these charges.

The award gets its’ name from three lawyers (Kathleen Stilling, Donna Kuchler, and Jessa Nicholson, respectively)  that have devoted their careers to sensitive crime defenses and have achieved outstanding results, including notable acquittals, often in high-profile cases. 

Nominations are open and will be referred to the directors of the district who can confirm the information and send it on to the WACDL  Board of Directors to formally issue the award.

Outagamie - State v. Bernard Johnson, 2020CF1084
Lincoln - State v. Oscar Coleman, 2016CF
Outagamie - State v. Brandon Javendoski, 2021CF878
Adams - State v. Dalton Utz, 2020CF93
Dunn - State v. Isaiah Logan, 2019CF30
Kenosha - State v. Robert Thomas, 2020CF344
2022 - Evan Dahl
Fond du Lac - State v. Leslie Ortiz, 2019CF791
Brown - State v. Jacob Peters, 2019CF1863
Racine - State v. Jeremy Deppisch
Milwaukee - State v. Jeffrey Hutcherson, 2021CF2433
Dane - State v. David Fierro, Sr.
2022 - Mark Gumz
Marquette - State v. Troy Shulka, 2021CF78
Racine - State v. Tyrence Stewart, 2021CF1088
Brown - State v. Jarod Meffert, 2021CF736
Racine - State v. Robert Blunt, 2020CF1642
Chippewa - State v. William Carter, 2020CF515
Dunn - State v. Justin Fuller, 2021CF95
Dane - State v .Kevin McDowell, 2021CF1746
Waukesha - State v. David Lembke, 2018CF1706
Chippewa - State v. Devyn McCormick, 2019CF692
Chippewa - State v. Kristopher Pahl, 2020CF284
Brown - State v. Jaron Meffert
Marathon - State v. Carl Snowden. 2020CF367
Milwaukee - State v. Maurice Green, 2020 CF 3380
Dunn - State v. Charles Hardy, 2019CF447
Langlade - State v. Emenheiser, 2016CF155
2022 - Adam Raabe
Wood - State v. Jesse Winker, 2020CF26
Fond du Lac - State v. Cody Jebron, 2020CF284
Wood - State v. Trent Lewis, 2019CF293
Lincoln - State v. Edwin Juedes, 2020CF258
Taylor - State v. Nicholas Spurl, 2019CF68
Dane - State v.Timothy Ovadal, 2019CF1611
Brown - State v. Ernest Dart, Jr.
Marathon - State v. Dennis Robinson, 2018CF395
2022 - John Zich
Lincoln - State v. Edwin Juedes, 2020CF258
2022 - John Zich
Lincoln - State v. Edwin Juedes, 2020CF258
Grant - 2021CF000268
Langlade - 2020CF000155
Wood - 2020CF000311
Kenosha - 2020CF001376
Waukesha - 2021CF000288
Dane - 2020CF002473
Waupaca - 2021CF000110
Brown - 2022CF000850
Richland - 2020CF000074
2023 - Kate Drury
Portage - 2020CF000273
Waukesha - 2021CF000640
2023 - Mark Frank
Dane - 2021CF001354
Waukesha - 2021CF001739
Dane - 2021CF002923
Dane - 2020CF002287
Dane - 2020CF003043
Kenosha - 2019CF000125
Marathon - 2019CF001077
Waukesha - 2021CF001703
Jefferson - 2020CF000259
Milwaukee - 2022CF000549
Milwaukee - 2022CF000549
2023 - Kerry Kelm
Chippewa - 2021CF000484
Milwaukee - 2018CF004143
Waukesha - 2021CF001739
Dane - 2021CF000620
Dane - 2019CF000319
Waushara - 2018CF001661
Waukesha - 2018CF001661
Sheboygan - 2022CF000364
Milwaukee - 2022CF000184
Brown - 2019CF000147
Grant - 2021CF000236
Brown - 2019CF000147
Grant - 2021CF000236
Eau Claire - 2020CF000623
2023 - Erin Nagy
Dane - 2020CF000135
2023 - Erin Nagy
Dane - 2021CF000031
Saint Croix - 2021CF000844
Saint Croix - 2021CF000844
Racine - 2019CF001494
2023 - Kirk Obear
Menominee - 2020CF000001
2023 - Kirk Obear
Sheboygan - 2019CF000788
Dunn - 2021CF000355
Washington - 2020CF000488
Calumet - 2020CF000250
Menominee - 2020CF000001
2023 - Kara Rolf
Dane - 2018CF002489
Eau Claire - 2019CF001592
Portage - 2018CF000407
Wood - 2021CF000250
Milwaukee - 2020CF003492
Brown - 2020CF001467