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May 19, 2019

5/2/2019 7:30:00 AM
Our view
A job well done, and justice served

Every day, most public servants go to work and do their jobs carrying out the public interest and protecting the public welfare without getting many thanks.

They understand they are not there for the thanks. Still, humans need to be appreciated, and it must be tough to endure year in and year out, especially when colleagues who engage in misconduct get all the headlines and taint the good work they do.

Today, in the wake of the conviction of Robin Mendez for the murder of his wife Barbara 37 years ago, we are reminded that most public employees do indeed work for the public good and to make sure justice is served.

This week, Oneida County became a shining example of that dedication and passion. We thus offer our thanks individually to those public servants who brought about the resolution of this case, but the vast majority of public employees who do their jobs quietly and diligently should take it as a thanks to them, too.

We particularly applaud district attorney Michael Schiek for bringing this case and seeing it through. His commitment has finally brought closure for the friends and family of Barbara Mendez, and for the Lakeland area community as a whole, and it ensured the search for justice by her daughters was not in vain.

This was not an easy case to prosecute. So many years had gone by, and much of the evidence was circumstantial. Mr. Schiek is an effective and deft trial lawyer, but a guilty verdict was anything but guaranteed.

That is to say, prosecuting the case was risky, at least in terms of reputation. But Mr. Schiek persevered because his interest was not in preserving his reputation but in attaining justice.

It's worth noting, too, that Mr. Schiek also persevered on a 37-year-old cold case at a time when district attorney caseloads have mushroomed, leaving prosecutors understaffed and overworked.

Wisconsin is woefully short on prosecutors, and Oneida County is no different. A 2016 study determined the Oneida County district attorney's office has just 61 percent of the full-time equivalent staff it actually needs.

That Mr. Schiek would undertake such grueling prosecution after so many years and with so much work in his lap speaks to commitment to the cause of justice.

Our accolades this week also extend to the Oneida County Sheriff's Office, and particularly to captain Terri Hook for her investigative work in the matter. The sheriff's department has come a long ways in the past several years, and the proof of its effectiveness was on display in this case.

Ms. Hook's work shined, but after the verdict this week she gave much credit to the team of detectives who worked with her, and we also tip our hat to them.

Indeed, this was truly a team and community effort, from the district attorney's office to the sheriff's office to the daughters of Barbara Mendez, who got things rolling when they approached the television program "Cold Justice."

They never gave up in their pursuit of the truth about what happened to their mother, and in this case, in this county, in this community, the system did not fail them.

Their words after the verdict sum things up better than we ever could: "The wise King Solomon writes, 'there is a time for everything under the sun.' He also writes, 'God will call the past to account.' Today, that past has been brought to account."

It certainly has been, and because the past has been brought to account, it should give us all optimism about the future. A family, a community, a law enforcement agency, a district attorney's office - all worked together as an extraordinary team for the common good, and the common good prevailed.

This is exactly the way things are supposed to work, and it makes us proud to say it happened in Oneida County.

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