Scott Wales and Kashoua "Kristy" Yang are competing for the Branch 47 judicial seat now held by Milwaukee County Circuit Judge John Siefert. This is the only contested Milwaukee County judicial race this year. Wales and Yang agreed to answer a series of questions from WJI to better inform voters about issues in the race.
The answers were edited for length (maximum 400 words).
This week's question: Should circuit court judges get paid more? Why or why not? If they should get paid more, how much more?
(Judges are paid about $131,000 per year.)
A class action lawsuit alleging Milwaukee County jailers shackled pregnant inmates during childbirth will go to trial June 5.
U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller denied a motion from lawyers representing the defendants, including Sheriff David Clarke, and the main plaintiff in the case, identified in court documents as Jane Doe, asking for separate trials over the class action allegations and allegations that former Milwaukee County jailer Xavier D. Thicklen sexually assaulted Jane Doe on five occasions.
Jailers work for Clarke. The sheriff testified in a deposition in the case that he did not know how many of his employees, whether it was 20 or 200, were referred each year to the district attorney's office for potential criminal charges.
The shackling issue arose during the course of pre-trial work by Jane Doe's lawyers and the class action allegations were added to the original sexual assault lawsuit. Doe's lawyers have said as many as 300 women could be part of the class.
Meanwhile, Thicklen's lawyer, Lew Wasserman, has asked to withdraw from the case because he has not been paid and because he cannot find Thicklen.
"Mr. Thicklen has failed to communicate with counsel for over a year, indeed, counsel has been informed that even Mr. Thicklen’s family is unsure of where he is presently residing," Wasserman said in his motion to withdraw. "Messages sent to Mr. Thicklen’s family do not result in any response by Mr. Thicklen. Moreover, counsel concludes that it is unlikely that Mr. Thicklen will voluntarily appear for trial."
Lawyers for all the parties in the case wanted separate trials on the sexual assault and class action issues. The sexual assault claim and the shacking claims rely on different sets of facts and Thicklen, the correction officer, had nothing to do with shackling female inmates.
"Presentation of evidence of the other claim could confuse or prejudice the jury," the lawyers said.
In addition, county lawyers want to ask an appeals court whether Thicklen was acting in the scope of his employment when allegedly conducting the assaults, and Jane Doe's lawyers want more time to conduct discovery on the class action allegations.
Stadtmueller was having none of it.
"This matter is now almost three years old, and will be more than that by the time of trial .... If the parties have failed to use this extraordinarily extended period to conduct necessary discovery and motion briefing on the class issue, the problem is of their own making," he wrote.
Incumbent Valarie Hill on Tuesday took first place in a four-way Municipal Court primary that saw just 7.9 percent of registered city voters cast ballots.
She will face second-place finisher William Crowley, a disability rights lawyer, in the April 4 general election.
Just 27,855 of the city's 352,765 registered voters cast ballots in the race, according to preliminary returns from the Milwaukee Election Commission.
Hill, a Municipal Court judge since 2004, garnered 13,084 votes. That is 46.7 percent of ballots cast for any candidate in the race, including write-ins, but represents votes from just 3.7 percent of registered voters. Hill's perceived acerbic attitude toward those who appear before her and the failure by the court's three judges to fully inform defendants of their rights are issues in the race.
Crowley, a lawyer with Disability Rights Wisconsin, won 5,356 votes, 19.2 percent of those cast in the race. He won support from just 1.5 percent of registered city voters.
Third-place finisher Brian J. Michel, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society, received 4,880 votes,or 18% of the total. Just 1.4 percent of registered voters cast their ballots for him.
The final candidate, Assistant City Attorney Kail Decker, got 4,342 votes, or 16 percent of the total in the race. Some 1.2 percent of city voters supported him.
Write-in candidates got 193 votes, or 0.69 percent of the total cast in the race.
Kashoua "Kristy" Yang and Scott Wales are competing for the Branch 47 judicial seat now held by Milwaukee County Circuit Judge John Siefert. This is the only contested Milwaukee County judicial race this year. Wales and Yang agreed to answer a series of questions from WJI to better inform voters about issues in the race.
The answers were edited for length (maximum 400 words).
This week's question: What is your judicial philosophy?
A Court of Appeals panel on Thursday threw out a search that resulted in felony drug charges against a man, but let stand three counts of felony bail jumping issued when the man violated the conditions of his release on the drug charges.
Oddly enough, missing a drug test is, by itself, not a crime, but was elevated to that level only because it was a condition of release in the case that the appeals court dismissed.
The District IV panel, in an unsigned opinion, first ruled that a La Crosse police officer was not justified in his pat down of Timothy C. Eigner, a search that led to charges of possession methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.
The panel was fairly harsh in some of its assessment of the state's case: "The proposition that anyone who rides a motorcycle in a group is likely to be a member of the Outlaws (motorcycle gang) and, therefore, armed and dangerous, is entitled to little or no weight," the decision said. The panel members were JoAnne F. Kloppenburg, Gary E. Sherman, and Brian W. Blanchard.
The panel also ruled, however, that Eigner's lawyer did not show La Crosse County Circuit Court Scott L. Horne was wrong when he ruled a prosecutor was not vindictive when she filed three felony bail-jumping charges against Eigner.
The prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Emily Hynek, not happy that Eigner's lawyer was challenging the search, wrote in an email, "I'll probably charge the (felony bail jumping charges) too, just to make it worth my while if I have to write (the brief)."
The prosecutor later said she really was only interested in getting Eigner into drug treatment.
According to the decision:
La Crosse Police Officer Casey Rossman was on patrol about 1 a.m. when he saw three motorcyclists outside a bar, revving their engines and spinning their tires.
He followed the three and, at an intersection, one turned left and two turn right. One of the two right-turners continued down the road, and the second, Eigner, turned down a side road and stopped in a well-lit area. Eigner, dressed in a hooded sweatshirt and jeans, put down the kickstand and got off the motorcycle. He took out his wallet and removed a card. Rossman approached and the two, standing side by side, spoke briefly. Eigner handed Rossman the card. Rossman asked whether Eigner had weapons, and Eigner responded that he does not.
Rossman put his hand on Eigner's back to start a pat-down and, as he did so, asked Eigner if he minded. Eigner's reply is not clear on audio attached to the officer's video of the incident. The appeals court said Rossman already had started the search when he asked the question.
Eigner was compliant, polite, and non-threatening throughout the encounter, the court said.
"I'll probably charge the (felony bail jumping charges) too, just to make it worth my while if I have to write (the brief)." - La Crosse County Assistant District Attorney Emily Hynek
Rossman testified in Circuit Court that it was not "typical behavior" for a motorcyclist to dismount from the bike after a traffic stop and that Eigner's behavior in doing so was concerning.
"I don't know what their intentions are, there's no barrier between him and I, and it could put me in danger... I don't know if they're going to flee, I don't know if they're going to attack me, for safety reasons," Rossman said.
The court rejected that argument. "One does not have to be a motorcyclist to readily understand that fully complying with an officer during a traffic stop, including fishing for a driver's license and proof of insurance, might well require dismounting from the motorcycle, or at least make a prompt dismount a highly attractive option for many motorcyclists," the court said.
Rossman also testified about a training session he attended about the Outlaws. "He had learned that most if not all Outlaw gang members applied for concealed carry permits and were likely carrying weapons," the court said. "However, Rossman also testified that he had no reason to believe that Eigner was a member of the Outlaw gang."
The panel also said the state's argument about the lack of a barrier did nothing to prove that Eigner was dangerous. "There is no limit to the State's argument, which is in effect that any time an officer is face-to-face with someone the officer has encountered in an official capacity, where there is 'no barrier," there are reasonable grounds for a pat-down. That is not what the case law instructs us is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment," the court wrote.
"My goal in this entire case was to get Mr. Eigner the treatment that I thought he wanted." - Hynek
At the hearing on the motion to dismiss the bail jumping charges, the prosecutor said her intent in filing the charges was to get Eigner the help he needed for his drug addiction. She said she was "irked" that Eigner's original lawyer "was making money off putting off Mr. Eigner getting into treatment.
"I'm not mad that I have to do suppression hearings, I do them all the time, but my goal in this entire case was to get Mr. Eigner the treatment that I thought he wanted," she said. By filing the bail jumping charges, she could help assure Eigner would get help.
Eigner's lawyer argued that the prosecutor's argument was "less compelling" than the originial email and that, if the prosecutor really was interested only in drug treatment, additional charges would only be needed if the state lost the suppression motion. Instead, the charges came when the motion was pending.
The court disagreed: "Eigner fails to explain why we should not rely on the circuit court's finding that the prosecutor filed the new charges for the reasons she explained, which did not have a retaliatory purpose."
While Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack pushes for judicial pay raises of more than $20,000 annually, the number of decisions issued by judges on the state's two appellate levels has fallen dramatically, statistics show.
Roggensack's big boost request fell flat with Gov. Scott Walker. She wanted the state to spend $6.4 million per year on judicial pay increases, but Walker is proposing only $334,000 for 2018-2019 pay raises.
Walker also is, however, recommending that the director of state courts figure out a judicial pay plan, which would be submitted to the Joint Committee on Employment Relations for approval. The director of state courts works for Roggensack's Supreme Court.
Roggensack's plan would have taxpayers footing bigger bills for judges -- at least on the two appellate levels -- who issue far fewer decisions than they used to.
Marquette University Professor Alan Ball examined the State Supreme Court's declining productivity on his excellent SCOWstats blog. He found the number of opinions issued declined from 83 in 1990-91 to 43 in 2015, a 48% decrease.
"Yet the average period between oral argument and the filing of a decision was roughly a month and a half shorter in 1990-91 than in 2015-16 (91 days and 136 days, respectively,)" Ball wrote.
The state's own statistics show a big drop in Court of Appeals productivity as well. It closed 3,132 cases in 2006 but just 2,421 cases in 2016. a decline of almost 23 percent.
Case filings dropped as well. There were 3,078 cases filed with the Court of Appeals in 2006; in 2016, there were 2,426 filed, a 22 percent drop..
WJI issued a statement today on Attorney General Brad Schimel's policies on testing rape kits and other crime evidence. The statement is below.
Attorney General Brad Schimel must more clearly explain his policies on testing rape kits and evidence from other crimes, the Wisconsin Justice Initiative said Friday.
Schimel this week announced a “By Your Side” campaign that asks sexual assault victims to come forward if they believed their kit was not tested. The state has tested just nine of its backlog of 6,000 rape kits.
“What happens when the victim is a child?” WJI Executive Director Gretchen Schuldt said. “Are those cases treated differently than those involving adult victims?”
Too many sexual assaults of minors involve family members or trusted friends of the family, Schuldt said, the very people most able to discourage victims from having the kits tested.
Schimel’s announced policy of testing rape kits only with the victims’ consent is dangerous because it reduces law enforcement’s chances of catching repeat offenders by linking evidence to multiple offenses, Schuldt said.
Schimel is not even contacting victims directly to find out if they want to have their kits tested. Instead, he is relying on individual victims, who probably don’t know the status of their test kits, to contact his office to ask to have their kits processed.
“He is putting almost the entire burden on the victim,” Schuldt said. “Schimel is making less than than minimal effort. He really should take catching serial rapists more seriously.”
Schimel should also explain whether he is treating victims of all crimes equally, Schuldt said.
“Is Schimel not processing evidence in any case where a victim might be traumatized?” she asked. “Can a the victim of an attempted carjacking block the processing of fingerprints taken from her car’s steering wheel? Can an attempted murder victim deny access to the bullets a surgeon digs out of his body? Can the owner of a store that was robbed refuse to let police process a bullet casing?”
If Schimel is treating sexual assault evidence any differently than other crimes, he needs to explain why, Schuldt said.
“We need to know that he isn’t just singling out for inaction crimes where victims are, by far, women,” she said.
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
Sign up for the free WJI newsletter.
Help WJI advocate for justice in Wisconsin