Dorow tells convicted drug dealers they ‘should be held responsible’ for overdose deaths

By: - February 2, 2023 7:00 am
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Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate and Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow has overseen more drug-induced homicide cases over the last five years than any of her Waukesha County colleagues, state court records show.

Dorow has frequently told drug users and drug dealers they must be held responsible for providing the drugs that ultimately killed another person and at times she’s both stated her belief that these defendants should cooperate with law enforcement investigators and rewarded that cooperation with lesser sentences. 

Dorow’s handling of these cases shines a light on her personal beliefs as her son faces scrutiny for his alleged role  in the overdose death of a UW-Milwaukee student in 2021. Dan Bice of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported last week that Dorow’s son, Michael, was known to be selling pills to UW-Milwaukee students and was one of the last people seen with 18-year-old Cade Reddington before he died of fentanyl poisoning. 

The Journal-Sentinel reported that Reddington’s friends and family believe a percocet pill laced with fentanyl caused his overdose. 

Michael Dorow has not been charged with a crime and UW-Milwaukee police have said they don’t comment on active investigations. 

In an update UW-M police gave the Reddington family, according to the Journal-Sentinel, they were told that Michael had hired a lawyer and was not answering questions from investigators. Family members also did not receive a response to a letter sent to Dorow’s courtroom in which they asked if she could get her son to meet with police. The Journal Sentinel account includes an anecdote in which Reddington’s anguished father confronts Dorow, pleading with her to help with the investigation, and she refuses to talk to him and abruptly departs.

People have a right under the Fifth Amendment not to speak with police during an investigation, yet as a judge Dorow has often told defendants in drug-induced homicide cases it’s important for them to cooperate with investigators. 

In Wisconsin, people can be charged with first degree reckless homicide, a class C felony, if they provide or sell the drugs that kill someone. If convicted, they can face up to 40 years imprisonment whether they were friends sharing drugs or a street dealer. 

In 2020, Dorow presided over the jury trial of Demillion Moore, a 27-year-old convicted of providing the fentanyl laced heroin that ultimately killed someone. During Moore’s sentencing, Dorow told him working with investigators is “the right thing.”  

“As a criminal justice system, we need to encourage people to do the right thing, to take responsibility when they make choices that result in the death of individuals, or otherwise are engaged in criminal activity and to cooperate with further investigations,” she said, transcripts of the hearing show. 

In 2017, Fox 6 Milwaukee published an investigation into charging of drug-induced homicides in Wisconsin, finding that the statute was often used to target drug users or low-level dealers while higher level dealers and suppliers avoided prosecution. The investigation found that Ozaukee County gave the lengthiest sentences for drug-induced homicides with an average of 11 years in prison. Manitowoc County was the most lenient, sentencing people to three years in prison when they were charged with drug-induced homicide. 

Dorow’s history of sentencing people with this charge sits in the middle of that range. In the six concluded drug-induced homicide cases she’s overseen, defendants have been sentenced to an average of six years in prison. 

There are two active drug-induced homicide cases in Dorow’s court. One, involving a heroin and fentanyl overdose, is set for a plea hearing in April. The second, which is scheduled for a jury trial this summer, involves an overdose after the victim took a percocet laced with fentanyl — the exact combination at the center of Reddington’s 2021 death. 

The Dorow campaign did not respond to specific questions about her record in overseeing these types of cases. Instead the campaign sent the same statement it provided to the Journal-Sentinel. 

“The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a story this morning that mentions my son and another young man, who died tragically,” Dorow said in the statement. “My heart aches for his parents. I am very sorry for their loss, and I pray that they somehow find comfort and peace. Every day at work, I see firsthand the devastating effects that illegal drugs have on our community.

“I love my current role as judge, and I’d be honored to be called justice, but the most important title to me will always be mom,” she continued. “Like every mother, I love my children more than anything in this world. I am shocked that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and some of my opponents think it’s ok to use my son for their own political ends.”

In her courtroom, Dorow has often told people convicted of drug-induced homicide that it’s a serious charge that warrants significant prison time because dealing drugs shows a lack of care for other members of the community. 

“This is a case that warrants a prison sentence,” she told Torrell Ware, a street-level heroin dealer, at his sentencing hearing in 2022. “There is no way to look at this in any other way. Probation would unduly depreciate the seriousness of this offense. It would send a very wrong message to you and anyone else in our community who would deal drugs willingly, knowingly, with the very real potential that any time you do that someone could die as a result. This is a known risk that you took [with] your, in my estimation, complete and utter disregard for the lives of other individuals when you deal heroin and put that deadly substance out into the community.” 

Dorow has also told people they may need to go to extreme lengths to avoid dealing drugs again when they get out of prison. 

“Even if that means you have to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet, you have to turn away from drug dealing,” she told Ware. 

Mike Browne, deputy director of A Better Wisconsin Together, says the actions of Dorow’s adult son don’t reflect on her ability to be a Supreme Court justice, but how she responds and if she encourages him to help investigators get fentanyl off the streets reflects on her as a person. 

“Whoever it is —  regardless of whether they’re an officer of the court, a politician or a private citizen — you’d hope basic decency would lead someone to help prevent more needless tragedies if they could,” Browne says. “In this case, it seems the Dorow family may be able to help the effort to find the source of fentanyl involved in a tragic death. It’s not about tough on crime or soft on crime, it’s about doing what’s right.”

In her campaign, Dorow has presented a tough-on-crime image. In her first radio ad, released this week, she highlights her work as the judge in the trial of the man who killed six people when he drove his SUV through the Waukesha Christmas parade in 2021 and past efforts sentencing violent offenders. 

“Judge Dorow is ready to serve on the Wisconsin Supreme Court,” the ad states. “Wife, mother, prosecutor, Judge Dorow’s life’s work is keeping Wisconsin families safe by holding criminals accountable. As a prosecutor and judge, Jennifer Dorow has locked up murderers, rapists and sexual predators. That’s why Judge Dorow is law enforcement’s choice.” 

One of four candidates in the officially nonpartisan Supreme Court primary, Dorow is running as a conservative against fellow conservative and former Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly, as well as liberals Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz and Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell. 

The primary election is set for Feb. 21.

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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.