By Gretchen Schuldt
The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee slashed by 91 percent Gov. Tony Evers' proposed capital budget for the Department of Corrections.
The committee approved a $24.2 million capital budget for the Corrections Department, down $234.8 million from the $259 million Evers proposed.
The bulk of the JFC's cut – $225 million – came from wiping out the proposed budgets for juvenile corrections regional facilities ($115 million) and proposed county-run secure juvenile facilities ($100 million).
The committee also killed new inmate housing for Taycheedah and Jackson Correctional Institutions, budgeted by Evers at $5 million and $10 million, respectively. Funding for a new restrictive housing unit at Lincoln Hills / Copper Lake was reduce from $10.3 million to $500,000.
The committee retained the $8.1 million Evers proposed for heating and ventilation improvements at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility, and $10.6 million Evers proposed for a new health services unit at the Stanley Correctional Institution.
JFC also added $5 million in spending to begin work on replacing the Green Bay Correctional Institution.
The Legislature, in the wake of the scandal surrounding the gross mistreatment of youths at the two juvenile prisons, voted to close them. They are supposed to eventually be replaced by a new state-run juvenile prison and county-run secure residential facilities.
Evers said this week, however, that meeting the 2021 goal to build the new facilities may be impossible.
We are through 13 of 72 counties in our review of marijuana charges filed in Wisconsin last year, but it is already clear that marijuana laws are unevenly enforced throughout the state.
The Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office, for example, filed one criminal case containing a marijuana charge for every 3,292 county residents, by far the lowest charging rate in the state thus far; on the other end of the scale, Burnett County filed one pot case for every 169 residents, the highest charging rate.
These aren't the only disparities we're finding. Follow along as we document the wildly erratic enforcement of cannabis laws in Wisconsin.
Additional data for each county is posted on The 2019 Pot Page and we'll be updating and expanding our charts on this blog.
By Gretchen Schuldt
Somebody in Delbert Pascavis' flat strangled him to death with a bedsheet and wrapped a telephone cord around his neck, waist, and right foot.
There was no sign of forced entry into the house.
Before the night of July 26, 1985, Pascavis was a church organist, a tutor, a man active in the gay community. He was a case worker for Milwaukee County whose job included interviewing potential foster parents.
He was a member of the Bel Canto Chorus, the Felix Chorale, the Neighborhood Block Watch, and the Black and White Men Together, an organization that currently describes itself as a "gay, multiracial, multicultural organization committed to fostering supportive environments wherein racial and cultural barriers can be overcome."
He also was "quite a drinking man," his landlord told police, according to a police report.
Pascavis "was a partier and had lots of different people coming and going at all times of the day and night....," the report said.
He was popular in the neighborhood and never turned anyone away from his house, the landlady told police. If a visitor brought a friend along, Pascavis would welcome that friend as well.
His landlord "also stated that most of his guests were young black males in their twenties," she said.
Pascavis was with a black man the night he was killed, witnesses said. Some later identified that male as Alphonso James, but those identifications were questioned later by the Wisconsin Innocence Project.
Another witness described the Pascavis' companion that night as a black male in his late 20s or early 30s, about six feet, one inch tall and 190-200 pounds.
James was 17, five feet, nine inches tall and weighed 158 pounds.
As soon as his body was found on the morning of July 27, 1985, Pascavis became a homicide case, the property of the justice system.
Soon enough, the life of Delbert Pascavis would be overshadowed in the justice system almost completely in by the next act: the prosecution of Alphonso James.
Next: The confession
"Walker's judges" is our effort to present information about former Gov. Scott Walker's appointees to the bench. The information is taken from the appointees' own judgeship applications. While Walker has left office, WJI will continue to profile his appointees who are still in office. We also will profile Gov. Tony Evers' judicial appointees.
Name: Maureen Morris Martinez
Appointed to: Racine County Circuit Court
Appointment date: Dec. 4, 2018, elected to a six-year term in April 2019
Law School – Marquette University Law School
Graduate School – University of Illinois – Urbana
Undergraduate – St. Mary's College of Notre Dame
Marshall University, Huntington, W.V.
Recent legal employment:
January 2017 - present – Deputy district attorney, Racine County District Attorney's Office
February 1997 - January 2017 – Assistant district attorney, Racine County District Attorney's Office
State of Wisconsin
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin
Racine County Bar Association
Legal experience as an advocate in criminal litigation, civil litigation, administrative proceedings: Assigned to a sensitive crime caseload that includes homicides and sexual assaults. Previously directed children in need of protective services for 15 years. Involved in administrative and personnel matters.
Number of cases tried to verdict or judgment: Jury, 300; non-jury, no answer; arbitration, no answer; administrative bodies, no answer.
Cases on appeal: I have litigated a number of cases on appeal.
The application asks for the names and case numbers of the appeals and Martinez listed three.
Three most significant cases: Martinez did not list specific cases and did not give the requested case numbers and citations.
By far the most important cases that I have litigated have been the termination of parent rights cases. They are not important as to the legal issues, but more so for the individual children and families that are affected.... I have conducted countless termination of parental rights trials and was successful in them all.
My work with the Veteran's Court Treatment Team is also very significant. Through this court's work and the very hard work put in by the veterans, we have literally brought veterans back from the brink of despair.
Previous runs for political office: None.
Position or involvement in judicial, non-partisan, or partisan political campaign, committee, or organization:
Supported Racine County District Attorney Patricia Hanson in two campaigns. Both times I was on her campaign committee and participated in the "boots on the ground" duties of campaigning. During her campaign for district attorney I coordinated the letters to the editor campaign. I also spent countless hours with and on behalf of Tricia "working the room" for her.
All judicial or non-partisan candidates endorsed in the last six years:
Judge Wynne Laufenberg
Judge Robert Repischak
District Attorney Patricia Hanson
Professional or civic organizations, volunteer activities, service in a church or synagogue, or any other activities or hobbies that could be relevant or helpful to consideration of the application:
Tutor for middle school students at John Paul Academy
Former Board president and Board member, YWCA in Racine
Member, Racine County Child Death Review Team
Member, Multidisciplinary Child Abuse Investigation Team, Racine County
Member, Drug Endangered Child team for Racine County
Former member of All Saints Health Care Systems, member of the Physicians Activities Committee
Previous member and co-chair of the Racine County Family Violence Community Coalition.
President of the PTA for Holy Name School
Describe any significant pro bono legal work in the last five years: Pro bono work not allowed due to her position.
Why I want to be a judge –
My ambition within my law career has been a slow progression. When I began law school in the fall of 1992,1 had (redacted) and a (redacted). My husband had a demanding career as an (redacted) and I was leaving a career that I loved, school social work. I felt a calling however and I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to be a lawyer. I studied at my kitchen table and took the entrance exam and was accepted by Marquette University Law' School. With (redacted) children at home, Marquette was the only school I could attend and I started law school.
As hard as it was I LOVED THE LAW. I loved everything about law school, I had previously set as a goal for myself to be an autonomous life-long learner; what better way to do that then be a lawyer as the law is ever-changing.
I also went to law school with the ambition to become a prosecutor.... I absolutely love litigation; one of my favorite places is the courtroom.
In my efforts to be an autonomous life-long learner, as comfortable as I am as a prosecutor, I believe I am ready to take the next step and explore new areas of the law as a judge. I know I have the knowledge, skills and judgment to be a fair and impartial judge. I think I have an excellent reputation within the legal community as an honest, ethical, hard-working and talented attorney. I am always ready to listen, however, I never waiver from my cannon (sic) of holding people accountable for what they do.
The fact that this father was unaware of the existence of this child until the government informed him is not a reason to excuse his lack of concern for his child. ... – Racine County Circuit Judge Maureen Morris Martinez
The Joint Finance Committee's recommendation to increase the pay of private lawyers representing indigent clients is a good first step but more needs to be done, the Wisconsin Justice Initiative said Wednesday.
"The $70 per hour recommended by Joint Finance is much better than the $40 the private lawyers are getting now, but it's still not enough," WJI Executive Director Gretchen Schuldt said. "The amount, at minimum, should be indexed to inflation."
The $40 rate is the lowest in the nation, and is not enough to cover the average lawyer's overhead.
The State Public Defender's Office appoints lawyers when its own caseload is too great, or when it has a conflict. Lawyers are increasingly refusing to take those SPD appointments because the low pay means they lose money on the cases. The situation is especially dire in rural counties, where defendants in criminal cases can sit in jail for extended periods because SPD cannot find lawyers to represent them.
The proposed increase would be the first in decades, and it is entirely possible that without indexing, it will be another several decades before private lawyers see another pay bump, Schuldt said.
"We applaud what Joint Finance did," Schuldt said. "Just not as loudly as we would like."
By Gretchen Schuldt
Alphonso James was arrested for murder in 1985 when he was 17 years old, was sentenced to life in prison, and spent 31 years there for a crime he said he did not commit. This is part 2 of James' story. Part 1 is here.
Alphonso James was arrested two hours after the body of Delbert Pascavis was found and about 30 minutes after a man described by his neighbors as mentally unbalanced identified James as the killer.
James remembers the moment well.
"It was 11 o’clock in the morning," he said. "It was hot outside, my mother was in the kitchen cooking, and then, lo and behold, the police just pulled up in front of our house."
They took him into custody.
The next time he was free was 32 years later.
He thought at first his arrest was related to a fight he had with a friend. There was a juvenile arrest warrant out for him related to that incident, and James quickly admitted to his involvement in the stabbing.
At the police station, James said, he still wasn't aware he was in trouble for a murder.
Officers came into the interrogation room "and they would come in and asked me to remove clothes," he said in an interview. "They would get a flashlight and go over my body to see if there were any recent marks or bites and they didn't find anything. So finally they told me 'Well, we'll be right back.' So they removed all of my clothing and left me in the room with nothing."
During James' trial, police denied leaving him naked and said they brought him a change of clothing.
Eventually, James said, "They were questioning me about a murder. I said, ‘Well, I have no idea about a murder' and I told them the truth from day one. They asked me where I was at; I told them everything."
James was the main suspect in a murder because of a phone call to police from a 33-year-old man who dressed in western clothing and was known as "a person who spends a lot of time talking with the kids and is described as 'crazy,'" according to a police report.
"It should be noted that at the time I talked to (the man) he was wearing some type of western chaps that appeared to be vinyl and were black and red in color," an officer said in the report.
The man told police that two children told him that Alphonso James killed the "old man," meaning Pascavis.
An officer spoke to the father of those children and to other children and residents of the neighborhood. "I was unable to find any children in the area that would admit to speaking with (the man) this date relative to the allegations that Alphonzo (sic) James was the person responsible for killing the 'old man,' " the officer wrote.
That same day, another officer identified residents he believed could be capable of a crime like Pascavis' murder. The officer identified two brothers who lived a few doors away from Pascavis' home on N. Booth St. One of the brothers, according to a separate report, had hung out with Pascavis.
But James already was in custody.
Next: Who was Delbert Pascavis?
*Photo courtesy of Hupy & Abraham.
Alphonso James was arrested for murder in 1985 when he was 17 years old. He says he didn't do it, and there are serious, serious questions about the case.
There is no question, though, that James was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison.
He actually spent 31 years there. He was sentenced in February 1986, when he was a very young man; he was paroled in February 2017, no longer so young and still insisting he did not kill anyone.
Today he is engaged to be married, he is working, and he is contributing to the community. He is especially involved in working to help incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people to successfully return to the community.
So who deserves second chances? Alphonso James, sentenced to life, made it out of prison, at least part way. Because he is on parole, he remains under the tight control of the state.
Others sentenced to life as children, now in their thirties are forties, are still behind bars. Some may never get out, no matter what they do or how much they have changed since their arrests.
Innocent or not.
The price of phone calls from state prisons will fall from 50 percent to 67 percent this summer, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections announced in a memo Tuesday.
Rates will fall from 12 cents per minute for in-state calls and 18 cents per minute for out-of-state calls to a flat rate of 6 cents per minute, Division of Adult Institutions Administrator Makda Fessahaye wrote.
The text of the memo, as provided to WJI:
The DOC is implementing a new telephone system. Oakhill and WCCS (Wisconsin Correctional Center System) will make the change during the week of June 3rd to assure stability of the system. After approx. 30 days the other facilities will be converted. Additional info and advertisements will be shared as transition dates approach. The list below is all inclusive, but provides some notable changes.
• Rates will reduce from 12¢ a min for in state and 18¢ a min for out of state calls to a 6¢ a min flat rate. Rate changes will take effect when all sites are converted, ensuring all callers are paying the same rates.
• The new system allows inmates to fund their own CenturyLink calling accounts to make outgoing calls. Money will no longer be sent to friends and family for calling accounts. Additional info will be sent regarding this process.
• Family and friends are not required to have an account with the new system, unless they wish to accept collect calls. Family and friends may establish a new account with CenturyLink beginning May 27. That can be done online at icsolutions.com or over the phone at 1-888-506-8407 or with a cashier's check or money order through the mail at Centurylink/ICSolutions, attn: Customer Service, 2200 Danbury St., San Antonio, TX 78217.
• Family and friends who currently have Corrlinks accts should plan accordingly. Requests for a refund can take 2-3 weeks to process. Refunds from Securus can be requested at 1-800-844-6591 or online at securus.net by choosing Manage Account and then Close Account.
• Current accounts will not work after conversion occurs.
• International calls can be made on the new system using the day room phone as long as funds are available on the CenturyLink calling acct.
The Wisconsin Justice Initiative has asked the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission to undertake a full review of the city's police pursuit policy that has resulted in an increasing number of dangerous pursuits and accidents.
"We know that police chases are dangerous, and we know that they have not made Milwaukee streets safer," WJI Executive Director Gretchen Schuldt said in testimony prepared for the commission meeting last week. "While it is good news the number of fatal crashes was down last year, the overall number of crashes was up, as was the number of crashes with injuries. Also up, the number of crashes involving speeding, failure to yield, inattentive driving, and disregarding traffic controls. Hit-and-run crashes also increased. These numbers are not indicative of a successful policy."
WJI reported last month that the number of police chases increased 155 percent from 2017 to 2018, the result of a deliberate loosening of restrictions on when officers can pursue fleeing suspects. Chase-related injuries also were up sharply. Two-thirds of chases resulted from traffic offenses, not serious crimes.
Commissioners said they would hold further discussions on the pursuit policy and would announce the dates of those discussions later.
By Gretchen Schuldt
The Wisconsin Justice Initiative and the American Constitution Society Milwaukee Lawyer Chapter are teaming up to refresh WJI's Pot Page with court data from across the state.
WJI, in a previous version of the page, examined felony marijuana cases – possession of marijuana, second offense or greater – in Milwaukee County. That project pretty clearly illustrated that African-American men on the North Side of Milwaukee are disproportionately charged with that crime.
The new page already is uncovering some interesting information. In Milwaukee County, for example, there was one marijuana case filed last year for every 3,292 residents; in the much smaller Ashland County, at the top of the state, there was one marijuana case filed for every 371 residents. In other words, Ashland County law enforcement is much more aggressive in prosecuting marijuana crimes when population is factored in.
Surprisingly, there were just as many women charged – 15 – in Ashland County as there were in Milwaukee County. Those women accounted for 36 percent of the 42 Ashland County cases, but just five percent of the 288 Milwaukee County cases.
Follow along as we look at data from all 72 counties.
Help WJI advocate for justice in Wisconsin