By Gretchen Schuldt
State Sen. Kathleen Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls) is a sponsor of the ill-conceived Marsy's Law amendment to the State Constitution that would give victims the right to attend every court proceeding in their case.
Allowing anyone interested to attend court proceedings is a good thing. Elevating such access to the level of a constitutional right can create logistical nightmares for court officials and create long delays in cases. (Visit our Marsy's Flaws page to learn more.)
WJI's questions for Bernier are about former Eau Claire County Treasurer Larry Lokken and his assistant, Kay Onarheim, who embezzled more than $600,000 from the county. The theft enraged county residents. Bernier represents part of the county.
Marsy's Law defines "victim" generally as "a person against whom an act is committed that would constitute a crime if committed by a competent adult."
Stealing public funds is clearly stealing from the folks who pay into the treasury.
WJI wrote to Bernier to ask a few questions about how, under Marsy's Law, Eau Claire County Circuit Court officials would manage likely demand from people to attend Lokken/Onarheimcourt proceedings.
A few details about Eau Claire County: its population is 104,534, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and most of those people pay some sort of tax or fee to the county, which also gets state and federal money.
Our questions for Bernier:
If Marsy’s Law was in effect at the time the two were arrested, would each and every victim have a right to attend all court proceedings? How do you propose requests be coordinated?
Let’s say only 100 county residents requested to attend the court proceedings. Who would be responsible for finding dates when 100 people could be in court at the same time? Would the cost of that coordination fall to the District Attorney’s Office and the state? Or would the county be asked to pick up the tab?
Would the right of victims under Marsy’s Law to attend proceedings override the defendants’ right to speedy trials?
WJI will report on any response Bernier provides. We're still waiting on State Attorney General Josh Kaul and State Sen. Van H. Wanggaard (R-Racine).
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