Public Defender Attorney Sam Benedict Honored with David Niblack Award

Latest News

Public Defender Attorney Sam Benedict Honored with David Niblack Award

The Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is pleased to announce that Public Defender Sam Benedict has been selected to receive the 2018 David Niblack Award.


The purposes of the Niblack Award are:


1.      To recognize the contributions of an attorney to the effective defense of the indigent, either cumulative career contributions or outstanding accomplishments.


2.      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.


Sam has been a public defender for more than 39 years! Rather than try to summarize his remarkable career advocating on behalf of indigent persons, here is the letter of nomination the selection committee received, signed by eight criminal defense lawyers:


“Sam’s journey started in 1979, when, shortly after graduating from The Ohio State University and moving to Wisconsin, he joined the State Public Defender’s Office in Waukesha. He was promoted to Deputy First Assistant for the Waukesha Office in 1992 and was subsequently promoted to First Assistant of the Waukesha Region in March 2003, a position he still maintains today.

As a litigator, Sam has represented clients across a broad spectrum working on all kinds of cases, from homicides to termination of parental rights matters, juvenile delinquency petitions to involuntary civil commitments, and everything in between. He has represented defendants in several high-profile cases with national attention, including Ted Oswald on a 1st degree intentional homicide charge, and also Andrew Wirth on a multi-count homicide case in Jefferson County. He also litigated a felony murder trial in the case of Floyd Smith, which resulted in an acquittal. He has made a practice of regularly filing suppression and other unique legal motions, striving to protect the rights of all citizens of this state.


Sam has served on multiple boards, including the Waukesha County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, acting as a voice for evidence-based practices, including access to alternative interventions, be it addiction treatment or mental health care. In fact, Sam was one of the founding members of the State’s first OWI treatment court. Sam has also served on the Board of Governors for the State Bar of Wisconsin and is an active member and past president of the Waukesha Bar Association. He is currently a leader in the Waukesha County’s evidence based decision making initiative, focusing extensively on avoiding excessive bail and unnecessary pretrial incarceration.


Not only is Sam committed to indigent defense, but he serves the field by mentoring younger attorneys who are eager to learn and grow. Sam oversees three offices in his region, and one of his practices includes inviting lawyers in their first few years of practice to partner with him on complex loss of life cases, often allowing the new lawyer to take on critical roles in the litigation.  His knowledge of the law is an asset other attorneys attempt to match, his litigation skills are revered and emulated by man, and his dedication to his clients and the community is palpable. Sam’s influence often times sets the tone for the care and dedication that new attorneys will bring to their practice for the rest of their career.


From his colleagues, the anecdotes of Sam’s influence are endless, but worth sharing. One colleague shared that her ability to effectively communicate a client’s story was largely formed during a trial with Sam in 2015: Sam did whatever it took to tell the client’s story, which, in that case, meant providing a firsthand reenactment of the client’s act of self-defense during direct examination. His creative ability and steadfast dedication to the client’s story was inspirational.


Another colleague of Sam’s called him the ‘unicorn’ of criminal defense, referring to his unique and unmatched abilities as an advocate for indigent defendants.


Others talk about Sam as a patient and kind teacher and mentor, always taking the new, young lawyers under his wing and training them: Sam has always been generous with his time when you came to him with questions or wanted to brainstorm cases.

In short, Sam is the epitome of the spirit of the Niblack Award.  He embodies the principle of going above and beyond the call of duty in his advocacy on behalf of indigent defendants in Wisconsin. He’s an advocate, committed to the protection of rights for the least popular among us.  He stands with people even when no one else will.”


Congratulations to Sam, and thank you for your service.


The award will be presented to Sam at WACDL’s President’s Conference and Seminar April 25-26 in Wisconsin Dells.

Are You Interested In Becoming A Member of WACDL

Sign Up