By Alexandria Staubach
Legislation in reaction to disposal of a Bible could expand the amount of property incarcerated people may keep, but an administrative rule change might be better.
Senate Bill 21 would increase the maximum permissible value of an incarcerated person’s general property from $75 to $150. The bill does not increase the permissible value of electronics, which is set at $350.
The bill’s backstory features a Wisconsin prison’s disposal of a Bible mailed to a person in custody. The Good Book’s value exceeded the $75 limit on personal goods incarcerated people are allowed to keep, so prison officials refused to let the intended recipient have it.
SB 21 passed the Senate in March 2023. It then passed the Assembly on Jan. 16 during an open session. The bill now heads to Gov. Tony Evers for signature.
Since introduction of the bill last winter, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections issued an emergency rule raising the value of personal property to $150 and the value of electronics to $500.
A permanent rule waits for approval in the Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules, said Rep. Ryan Clancy (D-Milwaukee) at the Assembly’s Jan. 16 floor session. Clancy highlighted that the maximum property value the bill is meant to address would be fixed by the pending permanent rule, which he described as “objectively better.”
Unlike the administrative rule change, the bill does not raise the value for electronics and will therefore decrease the values set by DOC’s emergency rule.
“If you intend to vote yes on this with the intent to make conditions better in our jails and prisons, thank you for that intent, that is not what this would do,” said Clancy.
In a letter to the Assembly Committee on Corrections, the DOC said it preferred to make changes through the administrative code “rather than statute to allow greater flexibility for any future changes that may be needed.”
Rep. Paul Tittl (R- Manitowoc), the bill’s primary sponsor, reiterated at the open session that the dollar limit is currently codified by statute and had not changed since 1994. He opined that a change in statute is the better solution.
In reference to a package of 17 bills proposed to provide significant harm reduction for those in prison, Clancy said it was “frustrating” that SB 21/AB 16 was the only one to make it through the legislative process.
By Alexandria Staubach
Vice President Kamala Harris today kicked off her nationwide Reproductive Freedoms Tour before a crowd gathered at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 7 headquarters in Waukesha County.
Harris' speech made clear that personal freedoms, and especially the right to abortion, would be central to this year’s partisan elections, including any race between President Joe Biden and the Republican frontrunner, former President Donald Trump.
Referring to the time since the U.S. Supreme Court passed the Dobbs decision overturning Roe, Harris said that “in the last 19 months, in states across our nation, extremists have proposed and passed laws that criminalize doctors and punish women.”
Harris spoke at noon. Two hours later the Wisconsin Assembly's Committee on Health, Aging and Long-Term Care began a public hearing on AB 975 to ban abortion after 14 weeks.
Current Wisconsin law restricts abortions after 20 weeks, except in medical emergencies, following a December ruling from Dane County Circuit Judge Diane Schlipper that a 19th-century Wisconsin law does not prohibit abortions.
The bill was first introduced and referred to the committee on Friday, Jan. 12. The bill is co-sponsored by 36 Republican Assembly representatives.
Gov. Tony Evers has said he would veto the bill if it makes its way through the Legislature to his desk.
The Assembly bill includes a provision requiring voter approval. If passed by both houses, the bill would add to the April ballot a referendum question about the 14-week ban. If a majority of voters votes "yes" on the change, it would go into effect the day after election results are final and certified. If a majority votes "no," the legislation would not go into effect.
At today's hearing, Assembly Republicans stressed that the issue should be “put to the people.” “We have got to get to the truth, we have got to understand where people are on this issue” said Rep. Amanda Nedweski (R-Pleasant Prairie).
The Supreme Court issued its Roe v. Wade decision on Jan. 22, 1973. The court overturned Roe in its 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision on June 24, 2022.
By Alexandria Staubach
Last week a bipartisan group of more than 30 lawmakers introduced a bill to end sentences of life without the possibility of parole for juveniles.
The bill, Senate Bill 801, also creates new mitigating factors for a sentencing court to consider, recognizing that juveniles change and mature mentally and emotionally over time. The bill would apply retroactively to anyone currently serving a juvenile life-without-parole (JLWOP) sentence.
If enacted, SB 801 would bring Wisconsin in line with 28 states already banning JLWOP sentences, including three of Wisconsin’s closest neighbors: Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois.
The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.
Ruling in Graham v. Florida, the U.S. Supreme Court held it unconstitutional for a court to impose JLWOP on non-homicide juvenile offenders; the court found that such a sentence violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. In Miller v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court banned mandatory life sentences for juveniles no matter the severity of the crime.
SB 801 states that its purpose is to clarify that “the statutory mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or extended supervision for repeat offenders does not apply to youthful offenders,” consistent with Miller.
JLWOP sentences are unique to the United States; we are the only country in the world with such a practice.
According to the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, the practice is permitted in 22 states, including Wisconsin and Michigan. In five states the practice remains on the books without active sentences.
Michigan has the highest JLWOP population in the nation and recently made national headlines for sentencing 17-year-old Ethan Crumbly, who committed Michigan’s deadliest school shooting at age 15, to life without the possibility of parole.
However, Wisconsin outpaces Michigan regarding overall number of youth incarcerated on life sentences with or without parole (141 compared to 65) and sentences over 40 years (73 compared to 15) as well as the total number of children in adult prisons (1,709 compared to 554), according to a 2021 report produced by the nonprofit Human Rights for Kids.
The following table shows the bill's sponsors.
By Alexandria Staubach
The Milwaukee Common Council this morning unanimously approved a new early-voting site that will be located at N. 60th St. and W. Capitol Dr.
The site replaces a popular one in the Midtown Center. In the 2020 and 2022 elections nearly 30% of the absentee ballots cast during early voting from the city of Milwaukee came from the Midtown Center site, accounting for more than 18,200 ballots in 2020 and 8,500 ballots in 2022.
The Midtown Center site was described as “the most popular in the Midwest” by more than one alder, including Mark Chambers Jr., who sponsored the measure and highlighted its importance to Milwaukee’s Black and Brown communities. Chambers said the site would be ADA accessible and on a well-used bus line. He said he looks forward to another robust voting cycle.
A coalition of stakeholders campaigned for the new site after Midtown Center was purchased by an Atlanta-based investor who sought more than double the rent for less square footage. Contract negotiations between the new owner and city devolved earlier this year.
Today at City Hall hopes were high that the new voting site would be just as productive. “We have the opportunity to be more potent” and “we can drive even more people to this location,” said Gregory Lewis, executive director of Souls to Polls and board chairperson for Power to the Polls.
At a press conference following the vote, Angela Lang, executive director of Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC), applauded the Milwaukee Common Council for its unanimous vote and “their work supporting this mission.”
Calena Roberts, Wisconsin state field director for Power to the Polls, exclaimed that “one door has closed, and another has opened wider!”
The coalition advocating for the new site included Souls to the Polls, BLOC, the Wisconsin Working Families Party, SEIU Wisconsin, Leaders Igniting Transformation Wisconsin, Power to the Polls Wisconsin, EXPO Wisconsin, ACLU of Wisconsin, and Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
By Alexandria Staubach
The Wisconsin Supreme Court heard three hours of oral argument yesterday in a case that could upend the state’s legislative maps, widely considered to be heavily gerrymandered in favor of Republicans.
Conservative justices said “we would not be here” absent a change in the court’s composition, while the more liberal justices focused on the mechanics of producing new maps should the Court find the current ones unconstitutional.
In a petition filed in August by 19 Democratic voters, the justices were asked to declare the state’s current state legislative maps unconstitutional and to order new maps be drawn ahead of the 2024 election. The suit was filed on August 2, one day after Justice Janet Protasiewicz took office.
In an October order, the Court agreed to hear two of the four presented constitutional claims: (1) whether the state’s legislative districts violate the Wisconsin Constitution’s requirement that districts be compact and contiguous and (2) whether the maps as currently drawn violate separation of powers under the state Constitution.
The Wisconsin Constitution requires that districts be compact and contiguous, while several districts currently resemble Swiss cheese.
Counsel for the Republican Legislature, represented by Taylor Meehan, a former law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, argued several originalist interpretations of the word “contiguous” and whether it indeed means physical touching or a “looser” definition. Meehan ultimately landed on the possibility that the looser definition can apply and that Gov. Tony Evers accepted the maps as sufficiently contiguous by failing to argue otherwise in previous litigation.
At least one justice pointed out that a failure to previously argue the unconstitutionality of something does not make that same thing constitutional.
Justice Rebecca Grassl Bradley interjected frequently. She asked whether some parties could accept the integrity of the Court’s decision given that the Court’s new member, Protasiewicz, called the maps “rigged” on the campaign trail.
Richard Esenberg, founder of Wisconsin Institute for Law & Policy and counsel for the intervening Wisconsin voters, said that while that may be an argument later it was not an issue presently. Esenberg said the Court’s job now was merely to “fix constitutional violations” of individual districts should the Court find any.
Grassl Bradley repeatedly stated that the suit would never have been brought in the absence of the new justice. Mark Gaber, an attorney from the Campaign Legal Center, responded this was inaccurate. Gaber argued that contiguity was (1) never previously argued and (2) is not a partisan issue. Some justices, however, were concerned that taking the case was a “slippery slope” toward hearing new redistricting cases every time the court's makeup changes.
In addition to contiguity and separation of powers issues, argument addressed whether the Court should take account of the partisan effects of any maps it may adopt. Justice Jill Karofsky stated that by failing to consider partisanship the Court “could be letting it play a big role.”
Justice Rebecca Dallet was interested in who the parties thought should assist the Court in redrawing any new maps as well as the practicalities of drawing non-partisan maps.
WJI and the Wisconsin Fair Maps Coalition filed an amici curiae brief in the suit, arguing caselaw that supports Karofsky’s position.
The petitioners seek a remedy that challenges a lawmaker’s right to hold office. If the petitioners are successful, some senators would be required to run for two-year terms in new districts as part of a special election in 2024, despite their being in the middle of four year terms. Grassl Bradley said she “couldn’t imagine something less democratic.”
The proposed remedy also raised questions as to whether actions taken by the Legislature since the current senators’ election are constitutional. But while petitioners stood by their sought remedy, there was no affirmative argument that every law passed since the last election should be invalidated.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission has said that any new maps must be in place by March 2024 for next year’s elections.
Wisconsin teacher fired over "Rainbowland" controversy fires back with lawsuit amid increasing reports of discrimination
By Alexandria Staubach
The Wisconsin teacher fired over her comments about the “Rainbowland” song says that since her termination the temperature for teachers has continued to escalate. Teachers both in and outside the state have reached out to her to report terminations they think were the result of supporting LGBTQ+ rights or being part of the LGBTQ+ community.
“My hope was to help avoid exactly this,” Melissa Tempel told Wisconsin Justice Initiative in a recent chat about her firing and the wrongful termination case she has filed against the Waukesha School District. She said she had hoped her actions would further the district being a safe space for everyone.
Tempel has more than 23 years of experience as an educator in Wisconsin schools. She spent much of her career specializing in English as a second language in the Milwaukee Public Schools. In 2018, she moved to the Waukesha School District, where she taught first grade at Heyer Elementary School.
Tempel was terminated in July 2023 for her public comments following her school’s ban on the song “Rainbowland.” She is now suing the district and its superintendent, James Sebert.
Throughout Tempel’s tenure the district maintained “Policy 2240,” regarding “controversial issues in the classroom.” The policy states that “the Board believes that the consideration of controversial issues has a legitimate place in the instructional program of the district.” The policy permits introduction of a controversial issue if it:
According to Tempel’s lawsuit, under Policy 2240 the district in August 2021 banned signage related to the Black Lives Matter movement and subsequently expanded restrictions to apply to anything related to being an “anti-racist.” The policy prohibited Gay-Straight Alliance locker signs, but “Students for Life” and "Thin Blue Lines" signs remained displayed in common areas around the district. While the policy ostensibly applied to include “Blue Lives Matter” and “Thin Blue Lines,” Tempel said it was not applied evenly to pro-law enforcement materials. Tempel also recalled a time over a holiday break when custodians were permitted to remove any sign they deemed controversial.
According to the suit, during the 2021-2022 school year Policy 2240 was used to address increasingly specific conduct, like teacher attire, and expanded to include affinity with the LGBTQ+ community. In January 2022, a teacher was suspended without pay for putting up a Pride flag and refusing to take it down.
The lawsuit highlights several instances when the district’s enforcement of the policy generated backlash—for instance, a petition started in September 2021 calling on the district to walk back discriminatory restrictions now has more than 4,500 signatures, and in October 2021, 30 parents, students, teachers, and community members protested and gave Sebert a letter objecting to the policy.
Tempel’s complaint asserts that in June 2022, 54 teachers resigned from the district, and several testified publicly at a school board meeting that they also resigned in direct response to Policy 2240.
In January 2023 the district updated its dress code: “(S)taff are not permitted to wear or display on their person any item (e.g. symbols, graphics, images, or text) while at work that may be considered political, controversial, or divisive, or which is likely to distract from student learning, disrupt the school environment, or cause disharmony in the workplace. This includes, but is not limited to, clothing and/or accessories, such as lanyards, masks, and pin/ buttons.” Tempel told WJI that the policy didn’t outright ban rainbows, but from then on identification-badge lanyards and face masks had to be a single color.
By spring of 2023 tension reached a fever pitch, and, as has been widely reported, Tempel’s class was forbidden from singing “Rainbowland,” by Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton, at a school concert with the theme “The World.”
In the wake of the ban, Tempel took to Twitter. On March 21, at 6:39 p.m., she posted: “My first graders were so excited to sing Rainbowland for our spring concert but it has been vetoed by our administration. Where will it end?”
Her tweet included a graphic showing some song verses:
Tempel told WJI that the tweet “took off,” as “a freak occurrence of the internet.” By March 24 the district issued a public statement that the principal and central office administration determined the song could be deemed controversial and was banned in accord with Policy 2240.
When school resumed after spring break, Tempel was placed on administrative leave effective immediately. Tempel told WJI she never saw her class again and she was subsequently terminated from her job.
In recommending termination, Sebert wrote to Tempel that she was “entitled to disagree with the decision of the District related to the use of the song ‘Rainbowland’ at the Heyer concert.” However, the manner in which she chose to express her disagreement was “inappropriate, disruptive, and in violation of various District policies,” he said. In the letter, Sebert accused Tempel of “deliberately and intentionally” undermining the interests of the district.
Tempel is suing the district and Sebert, alleging they violated her First Amendment right to freedom of speech and that the district’s conduct is likely to deter a person of ordinary firmness from engaging in protected speech.
Wisconsin is experiencing a 14-year high in teacher turnover, with rates that surged to 15.8% in 2023, according to an August Wisconsin Policy Forum report measuring the rate of teachers moving between districts or leaving the profession altogether. The 2023 numbers are topped only by those seen in 2012 in the wake of Act 10, which limited public employee collective bargaining.
The report found that teachers of color “turned over at rates substantially above the state average.” Previous Wisconsin Policy Forum reports suggested that districts and school leaders may reduce turnover when they “foster organizational cultures and climates that affirm teachers’ identities.”
By way of contrast, Tempel’s complaint alleges the Waukesha School District suspended diversity, equity and inclusion training for staff in July of 2021, along with the work of the district’s Equity Leadership Team.
Tempel is currently not working as an educator in Wisconsin.
Sebert and the district have moved to dismiss Tempel’s lawsuit.
By Alexandria Staubach
The Wisconsin Court of Appeals on Monday ordered that JusticePoint’s services for Milwaukee Municipal Court remain in place while litigation between the organization and the City of Milwaukee proceeds.
As WJI previously reported, JusticePoint’s contract to provide Milwaukee Court Alternatives Program (MCAP) services was terminated by two of the three Milwaukee Municipal Court judges without much explanation, under a “convenience” clause. The city notified JusticePoint of the termination in May, giving the organization until mid-July to finish its work.
The court did not name any successor provider for the MCAP services and has said it will seek bids at some future date. That means that without JusticePoint, municipal court defendants will lose the assistance the organization provides for completing community service requirements, handling inability to pay forfeitures, or finding various social services.
JusticePoint sued the city on July 10, moving for a temporary restraining order (TRO) and preliminary and permanent injunctions to keep its contract and the program alive. JusticePoint argued that termination of its contract violated the Wisconsin Fair Dealership Law (WFDL).
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Hannah Dugan granted JusticePoint a TRO on July 10 to prevent expiration of the contract. But on Oct. 5, Judge J.D. Watts denied a preliminary injunction and dismissed JusticePoint’s case. Watts issued a 30-day stay of his decision to allow an appeal, but he refused to issue a stay that extended any longer.
JusticePoint then sought continuation of the TRO by the appeals court.
Justice Point will now continue to provide services to Milwaukee Municipal Court pending a decision on the appeal.
The issues on appeal will require the court to evaluate whether the WFDL applies to the city’s relationship with JusticePoint. Under the WFDL, a dealership exists when a person or entity “is granted the right to sell or distribute goods or services,” and when a “community of interest” exists between the parties. JusticePoint’s argument is that it distributes city services to individuals using the MCAP and that it has invested in the program.
Monday’s decision by Court of Appeals Judge M. Joseph Donald focused on the procedural aspects of granting a stay of Watts' order and evaluated three factors: 1) likelihood of success on appeal; 2) irreparable injury in the absence of stay; and 3) the existence of substantial harm to other interested parties. In examining these factors, Donald found that “JusticePoint showed more than a possibility it would prevail”; the stay was otherwise appropriate, as full-time staff could be lost and reputational harm to the program could result if the program is ultimately continued; and substantial harm could result to defendants who receive JusticePoint's MCAP services with no clear alternative to those services in place.
Donald said his order will “maintain the status quo” pending a decision that will resolve the appeal.
By Alexandria Staubach
While jury service is touted as one of the highest forms of public service an American can perform, it’s difficult to find a person who will admit they enjoy it.
Jury duty has a reputation for being inconvenient, and time-consuming. It generally comes at a significant personal expense and involves a mind-numbing number of hours spent waiting. Finally, it’s a little intimidating and at least a bit uncomfortable. Read: If you’re excited to sit in judgment of another person’s actions it’s unlikely any lawyer really wants you on their jury.
Nevertheless, under Wisconsin law, jurors are eligible for up to five days of service within a month or until any case they have been seated on is over. You can serve as a juror for only one month in a four-year period. The pay is abysmal, especially if you’re missing work and your employer isn’t compensating you. Within 30 days of your service, a half day will earn you $17, a full day, $25.
As a lawyer I’ve been on the other side of a jury plenty of times arguing my case, but I’ve never been called for jury duty. I was to report for service on Monday, Oct. 16, at 8 a.m., but the day began well before then. Unless you’re taking public transportation or getting dropped off, you’ll need to locate and pay for long-term parking. No location is particularly close, and none is particularly affordable. The cheapest option, which is often full, is a half-mile’s walk and $10 a day.
This is somewhat compensated for by the fact that Milwaukee County's courthouse is beautiful. The neoclassical building was completed in 1931 and includes Beaux-Arts details with sculptures and truly interesting tile and marble work. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. While it retains much of its charm, it also holds the grit of having dispensed nearly 100 years of justice.
There is a significant security line around 8 a.m., and it is bustling with attorneys, witnesses, family, observers, and jurors all sharing the same crowded hall to enter. I disarmed myself of my cell phone, keys and laptop to proceed through the metal detector. Once through, I made my way to the third-floor jury management room, where I began my day as a potential juror.
While the wait was often long, everyone interacting with jurors is incredibly kind — so respectful, so appreciative. As if to silently say, “it’s the least we can do.” After two hours of reading, people watching, and chatting with my fellow compatriots in limbo, at 10 a.m. my name was called. Sheriff’s deputies lined us up by assigned number in the hall outside jury management and marched us like ducks from the main courthouse to the Safety Building, traversing a city block and several flights of stairs in a group of 30.
The Milwaukee County Safety Building is a sky bridge and world apart from the courthouse. The Safety Building was originally constructed in 1929 and housed the central police station, city and county court, city and county jails and the county sheriff. In the 1990s the county moved their detainees to a newer facility, paving the way for the Safety Building to house additional courtrooms and legal offices. This part of the building is distinguished from its neoclassical counterpart by its wholly custodial aesthetic.
We arrived at the courtroom of the Hon. Jeffrey A. Wagner and again lined up by assigned number. Wagner took the bench in 1988 and his tenure predates the Safety Building’s courtrooms. Standing in line, we waited in the hall to be called, but 20 minutes later we were dismissed as the scheduled trial received a continuation. There was a large collective groan and everyone waddled back to jury management.
I resumed my seat and was soon called for another potential trial. We lined up again by assigned number and were guided back over the river and through the woods to the Safety Building (I cannot over emphasize how long this walk is), this time to the courtroom of the Hon. Laura A. Crivello. Crivello was appointed to the bench in 2018 and elected in the spring of 2019. She served as an assistant district attorney from 1995 until then. She runs a tight ship.
When we arrived in Crivello’s courtroom we were seated by number. The space was cramped with 30 prospective jurors, two people at the defendant’s table, two people at the prosecution’s table, a court reporter, two clerks, and a bailiff.
The judge introduced the parties and the charges. The defendant was charged with two counts of recklessly endangering safety and one count of felon in possession of a firearm. I was surprised to see he was dressed in an orange jumpsuit and was “pro se” (representing himself). On multiple occasions Crivello explained that these were his choices, and his choices alone.
Next came questioning called “voir dire,” which Crivello informed the panel meant “to speak the truth.” Crivello asked about disabilities, hearing, our collective ability to remain objective, and any experiences with the criminal justice system that might make us unfit for this jury. Despite grumbling outside the courtroom, every prospective juror was fully on board to participate. No one attempted lame excuses about why they couldn’t be there; no one cited dubious bias that would prevent them from participating. Having conducted many jury trials as a lawyer, I was surprised and impressed by the genuine and full responses given to the judge. Then we broke for lunch, which included an additional hour of unanticipated waiting.
When we finally returned to the courtroom, the defendant had changed out of his jumpsuit and put on a dress shirt and slacks. We were each asked to stand and tell the court our first name, occupation, marital status and spouse’s occupation, the name and age of any children, where in the county we resided, and a hobby. Once everyone had completed this, the state was permitted to ask questions of individuals. There was significant follow-up for those in the medical field – whether they’d dealt with trauma and gunshot wounds – curious given a lack of charge for assault or anything resulting in bodily injury.
Finally, the defendant asked us questions. Instead of asking questions of individuals, he asked the group whether we would be fair to him, whether we would hold it against him that he was representing himself, and whether we thought we could make the effort to understand him, even though everyone else in the courtroom was professionally trained. On more than one occasion Crivello corrected him or reminded him what was and was not permissible, cutting him short whenever he asked to make a record. With that, we were excused from the courtroom.
Next came a final stretch of waiting. I suspect from experience that the defendant was likely permitted to make whatever record he wanted and the parties then haggled over who would be kicked for cause (because they indicated they could not be unbiased or had some other impediment to service) and who would be each side’s peremptory strikes (Wisconsin law permits each side to eliminate four jurors without reason). Fourteen jurors (twelve impaneled and two alternates) were selected from the first 26 of us. I was last in the box, number 30, so the math to be selected was never in my favor. That was it. We were released and again sent back to jury management at 4 p.m.
Jury duty is a lot of waiting, and nearly everyone complained. For most people it’s also a lot of wondering about the many conversations taking place behind closed doors. In the end, though, I enjoyed it and I suspect – deep down – a lot of other people did too. The stakes are high. Everyone treats everything with reverence and respect. In an age when that’s difficult to come by, it was refreshing to know that decorum and civil duty live on in the Milwaukee County Courthouse, at least on this day.
By Alexandria Staubach
Leaders from a coalition of Wisconsin anti-abortion advocacy organizations are calling on Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne to prosecute abortions.
The activists held a press conference on Tuesday.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin resumed abortion services in Milwaukee and Dane counties on Sept. 18 after a 15-month hiatus. Services resumed following a July ruling from Dane County Circuit Court Judge Diane Schlipper.
Schlipper ruled in a case filed by Attorney General Josh Kaul seeking to repeal Wisconsin’s 1849 abortion ban. In denying a motion to dismiss by Sheboygan County District Attorney Joel Urmanski, Schlipper said the 1849 ban does not use the word “abortion” and therefore does not apply to medical abortions. Rather, the 1849 ban only prohibits attacks on women to terminate pregnancy.
No final ruling has been made in the case, nor has an injunction on the 1849 abortion ban been issued, causing some legal confusion. The case is ultimately expected to end up before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Representatives from Wisconsin Right to Life, Wisconsin Family Action and Pro-Life Wisconsin convened at the State Capitol to call out Chisholm and Ozanne for not bringing charges against Planned Parenthood one week and one day after services resumed. “Planned Parenthood is perpetrating this crime and they should be held accountable,” said Matt Sande, legislative and deputy state director for Pro-Life Wisconsin.
Although no one stated how or that they knew abortions were actively taking place at either Planned Parenthood facility, Dan Miller, state director of Pro-Life Wisconsin, said “sidewalk counselors” present at both the Dane County and Milwaukee County Planned Parenthood clinics observed approximately 10 women go in for services daily since the June 2022 Dobbs decision and that this number was up to 25 per day at both facilities after Planned Parenthood announced it would resume abortion services last week.
“If district attorneys pick and choose what law they enforce, where will that end," asked Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action. When asked whether non-enforcement was simply a matter of ordinary prosecutorial discretion, she responded “prosecutorial discretion usually is very quiet.”
All agreed they had not spoken with either district attorney.
By: Alexandria Staubach
Last week the Senate passed SB 86/AB 57 erasing prosecutorial discretion to dismiss or amend certain criminal charges without prior authorization from the court and prohibiting deferred prosecution sentences for certain crimes.
The new law would bar a prosecutor from dismissing or amending any of the included offenses without approval of the court. The bill does not define the criteria for a request for court approval.
A judge granting such an application would be required to submit an annual report to a standing committee of the legislature detailing each application approved, and how each application was consistent with the public’s interest and the legislature’s intent “to encourage the vigorous prosecution of persons who commit offenses that are covered crimes.”
Covered crimes are
The Milwaukee Police Association, Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, Wisconsin State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police, and National Insurance Crime Bureau registered in support. Neither the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association nor the Wisconsin State Public Defender registered for or against either bill.
Republicans call the legislation “commonsense,” but some disagree.
At a hearing before the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety on August 22nd, Rep. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) expressed concern over increased costs for the entire criminal justice system and a lack of funding in the legislation to address those costs, especially in the face of current court backlogs. The legislation was “piling on” without giving the courts and criminal-justice system the added resources necessary to implement the legislation, she said.
The ACLU strongly urged committee members to reject the bill, citing several reasons why a charge may be dismissed or amended, including “the innocence of an individual charged with a crime, insufficient evidence for a charge to stand, or constitutional concerns with police action.” “(P)rocedural justice, fairness, and upholding the constitutional rights of the accused are foundational principals of the criminal legal system,” the ACLU said.
The bill quietly passed in the Senate on Sept. 14, without comment from Republicans or Democrats. It heads to Gov. Tony Evers’ desk for signature.
Sponsors of the bill are shown in the following chart.
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