by CHRIS ROGERS
Trempealeau County will have a new district attorney soon. Incumbent district attorney Taavi McMahon lost by a landslide to candidate John Sacia in a recall election primary last week. Fewer people voted in Tuesday’s election than signed the recall petition that triggered it. Sacia won 83 percent of the vote, with 2,244 votes to McMahon’s 450. Now Sacia will face-off with candidate Rick Niemeier in a November 6 election to pick who should replace McMahon as the county’s top prosecutor.
“I was really, really honored to know that thousands of people in Trempealeau County showed up to vote for a special primary election on a random Tuesday in October just to send this message,” Sacia said. “I was really honored to have that level of support.”
“I am not surprised,” McMahon stated. “I anticipated that the 13 months of negative press would certainly assist in the recall proponents’ success.” Over the last year, McMahon faced criticism over his performance as district attorney and his handling of personnel affairs in his office. This summer, a petition triggered a recall election for his office. McMahon characterized it as a “witch hunt” and “a very well-coordinated political hit job.” After Tuesday’s election, McMahon added of his critics, “I congratulate them on their successful strategy.”
Sacia is the former assistant county attorney, whom McMahon suspended in August and then fired shortly before the election. McMahon said he fired Sacia because of a confidential personnel matter. Sacia claimed it was retaliation for Sacia’s decision to run. McMahon also criticized Sacia because his parents — along with sheriff candidate Kevin Deeren, Osseo Police Chief Bill Prudlick, and others — helped circulate the recall petition.
“The people of Trempealeau County saw through McMahon’s last desperate attempts to cast blame — to shift accountability for this event on someone else and away from himself,” Sacia stated. “People saw through what was a transparent attempt to undermine my name and reputation and spoke out strongly in my favor.”
The district attorney and his former lieutenant were facing each other in a primary because they both ran as Democrats. Now, Sacia will compete with Niemeier, the lone Republican candidate and the current Trempealeau County Corporation Counsel, in November.
As corporation counsel, Niemeier is the county’s civil attorney. The corporation counsel advises the County Board and county staff on civil matters, which, as it happens, included advising the County Board on its limited options for responding to concerns about McMahon’s handling a personnel issues in the district attorney’s office. “I was part of that discussion, but my role was just providing them with some legal advice on their course of action. Ultimately, the County Board makes those decisions, and I just give them the legal advice regarding those decisions,” he explained.
Nevertheless, Niemeier was also concerned about the district attorney’s office under McMahon. “Seeing what was going on in the district attorney’s office really got me prompted,” Niemeier said in an interview last month. “They needed a change in the district attorney’s office, a fresh candidate to get back to business in the district attorney’s office. There were just too many things that were being done not the way I would like to see them being done … I just want to make sure that the residents of Trempealeau County — that their criminal justice needs are being met and I have real concerns about whether that’s happening at the moment.”
In his campaign, Niemeier has highlighted the fact that he has extensive courtroom experience and has been practicing criminal law longer than Sacia. Niemeier worked in private practice for 11 years before running his own law office for five years, while Sacia has been practicing law for six years. However, Niemeier’s experience in criminal law is as a defense attorney. He has not worked as a criminal prosecutor. Sacia’s campaign has focused on his experience as a prosecutor and his local roots. Sacia was raised and currently lives in Galesville. Niemeier plans to move to Trempealeau from Barre Mills, Wis., this month.
Whoever wins in November is expected to take office shortly after the election, before the new year. Asked how he will conduct his work over the next several weeks, McMahon stated, “Our office will continue to represent the people and continue our commitment to public safety and our work with law enforcement and the department of human services to make sure our community is safe.”