By Barbara Boxer for   Published Jan 24, 2006 at 5:11 AM

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, its advertisers or editorial staff.

On the eve of the presidential election of 2004, the tires of Wisconsin Republican Party's vans were slashed. These vans were part of the Republican "get-out-the-vote" effort -- they were to be used to get Milwaukee voters to the polls in what would prove to be a squeaker election featuring one of the closest presidential margins in the country.

John Kerry won Wisconsin by a tiny margin, but he lost the election to George Bush. Republicans cried fraud.

So when five young men -- including the sons of Milwaukee Congresswoman Gwen Moore and former Milwaukee Mayor Marvin Pratt -- are put on trial for the tire slashings, a question arises: Was the trial political?

One of the fundamental concepts of our democracy is the right of every citizen to vote and for that vote to be counted. Thus, the tire slashings were a prevention of the right to vote and a serious crime. The vans were out of service for most of the morning on election day, and the lack of their availability probably prevented people from voting. If you believe, as I do, that this is a serious crime, then you probably believe the trial is not a waste of tax dollars.

The mother of Lewis Caldwell, one of the accused, claims the trial of the "Milwaukee Five'' is all political and only happened because Moore was being elected to Congress on the same day as the presidential election. Under her theory, retiring Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann made the charges because Moore's son, Sowande Omokunde, was one of the accused. Moore's high-profile position makes the case ripe for a trial, according to Caldwell's mother, who claims her son is a victim of politics.

She's on to something about this being a political trial, but not because Gwen Moore's son was one of the accused.

This trial is really about the politics of the Milwaukee County district attorney's race. McCann, who has been Milwaukee County DA for years and who has had a virtual lock on the office, has announced he will not run for re-elections in 2006, leaving the field wide open.

If Assistant District Attorney David Feiss wants to throw his hat into the ring for the top job, what better way to propel a relative unknown into the lead than with a high profile prosecution like the "Milwaukee Five'' trial? So yes, the trial of the Milwaukee Five was about politics. But it was about local DA politics, not congressional politics.

In the end, the prosecution didn't get the convictions it aimed for. Four of the five pleaded no contest to lesser charges at the last minute when the jury showed signs of quitting without a decision, and one defendant was acquitted by the jury shortly after. Those agreeing to the plea were Caldwell, Omokunde, the son of Moore; Michael Pratt, the son of former Mayor Pratt; and Lavelle Mohammad. The fifth defendant, Justin Howell, was acquitted. The four pleaded no contest to charges that carry a maximum nine-month jail term.

Still, it was a necessary trial -- no matter the politics involved, because a serious crime was committed against our precious right to vote.

- Barbara Boxer, an attorney at Reinhart Law in Milwaukee, is a veteran Democratic activist and fundraiser who supports Lautenschlager's re-election.

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