Category Archives: Law

Screnock and Dallet Move to the General Election

Excellent.

Sauk County Circuit Judge Michael Screnock and Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet advanced out of Tuesday’s primary for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

[…]

Screnock piled up huge advantages in Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee counties and also won handily in Kenosha and Jefferson counties. With most of the ballots counted, he had 46% of the vote.

In Milwaukee County, Dallet won over Screnock while Burns trailed badly. Dallet also overwhelmed Burns in his home of Dane County. Statewide, Dallet had 36% to Burns’ 18%.

Good job, Wisconsin. And this election hints that the forecasted Blue Wave may be overstated.

Red Flag Laws?

If written correctly, I could support a law like this.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The warnings around Nikolas Cruz seemed to flash like neon signs: expelled from school, fighting with classmates, a fascination with weapons and hurting animals, disturbing images and comments posted to social media, previous mental health treatment.

In Florida, that wasn’t enough for relatives, authorities or his schools to request a judicial order barring him from possessing guns.

Only five states have laws enabling family members, guardians or police to ask judges to temporarily strip gun rights from people who show warning signs of violence. Supporters of these measures, deemed “red flag laws” or gun-violence restraining orders, say they can save lives by stopping some shootings and suicides.

[…]

Without red flag laws, the main recourse available to family members is to have a troubled loved one committed to a psychiatric institution. Federal law permanently bans anyone who has been involuntary committed from owning guns, but such actions are more difficult to carry out than red flag laws, which are intended to be quick and temporary and have a lower standard of proof.

[…]

The red flag laws act as a sort of timeout, so someone in psychological distress can get counseling while their fitness to possess a gun is evaluated, said Laura Cutilletta, legal director of the Giffords Law Center.

We have rightfully made it very difficult to strip someone of their freedom and commit them to an institution. But there are clearly people out there who are mentally ill, chemically imbalanced, or truly struggling, and there are very few ways to protect society from them until they are stable again. Some middle road – like red flag laws – might be a way to help that. The key is that there needs to be rigorous due process and that process should default to the free access of civil rights.

It’s worth a look.

Dallet’s Disgusting Use of Dead Kids for Political Gain

What a horrible attempt to use the dead kids in Florida to attack her opponent.

dallettweet

 

 

Supreme Court Rules on Open Records

 This looks like a good balance.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court, deciding along ideological lines, said Tuesday that a state agency that oversees public employee union recertification elections can delay the release of voter records to prevent voter intimidation.

Government openness advocates warned that the ruling could have a broad impact on the public’s right to know how its government works because it allows records custodians to consider the perceived motivations of requesters when determining whether to release records.

The court’s 5-2 decision overturns a ruling in Dane County Circuit Court that favored Madison Teachers Inc.

MTI sued the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, which in 2015 denied MTI’s requests for lists of teachers who did and did not vote in the annual union recertification election. MTI had sought the records under the state’s open records law, but WERC denied the release of the records during the election because it feared that MTI would use that information to intimidate voters who had not yet voted.

[…]

Roggensack wrote that WERC Commissioner James Scott properly balanced the considerations of the state’s open records law with concerns about voter intimidation before deciding not to release voter records during the election.

“Preventing voter intimidation during elections conducted by phone and email, as occurred here, is challenging,” Roggensack wrote. “Given MTI’s repeated requests for the names of those who voted before the election concluded, it is entirely possible that those employees who had not yet voted would become subject to individualized pressure by MTI of a type that MTI could not exert when speaking to all members of the bargaining unit collectively.”

These records are public and should be released, but there is good reason to not release them as an election is in process. This is especially true when it comes to groups that have a history of using intimidation tactics.

Easy choice for Wisconsin Supreme Court

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

The passage of time makes it easy to forget how activist and liberal the Wisconsin Supreme Court was a few short years ago. For many years before 2008, the liberal majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court rendered ruling after ruling that eviscerated individual liberty, punished commerce and rewrote laws from the bench.

By 2007, Wisconsin voters had had enough. Wisconsinites elected conservative Justice Annette Ziegler to an open seat, but the liberals on the court still held a 4-3 majority. 2008 was the pivotal year. In that year, the upstart judicial conservative Michael Gableman challenged incumbent liberal Justice Louis Butler and won. This was the first time since 1967 that an incumbent Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice had lost a bid for reelection. Gableman’s victory also flipped the court to a conservative majority. Since 2008, Wisconsin voters have elected or reelected judicial conservatives every time except once. Conservatives hold a 5-2 majority on the court.

The conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court has been critical in Wisconsin’s conservative reformation. Liberals who failed to win elections and majorities in the legislative or executive branches have routinely run to the courts to advance their agenda. Act 10, right to work, concealed carry, school choice, regulatory reforms, tort reforms, welfare reforms, etc. would all likely have been thwarted by a liberal Supreme Court.

After serving for 10 years, Gableman has chosen to return to private life, thus inviting an open election for the seat. There are three candidates for the seat. On Feb. 20, Wisconsinites will go to the polls to narrow the field to two candidates in the spring primary election. With one judicial conservative, one judicial liberal and one activist liberal, the choice could not be clearer.

Tim Burns is a liberal Madison lawyer who has made his name suing insurance companies. Although the Supreme Court race is nonpartisan, Burns is taking the approach of running as an avowed “progressive” (the chosen moniker of modern socialists) and is unabashed about espousing his political opinions. He also believes that the court should not just interpret laws passed by the other two branches of government, but that the court should intervene to “protect the middle-class economy.” Burns also believes that the court has an “obligation to strive for more than just equality. Progressive courts can ensure equity.”

Burns does not want to just interpret and enforce the laws as written. He wants the Supreme Court to serve as a socialist super-legislature that will reshape our lives in his vision — win Tim Burns making the decisions, of course. Burns is not just the typical judicial liberal. He is a dangerous activist with little regard for representative government or judicial restraint.

Rebecca Dallet is a more traditional judicial liberal. Dallet has been a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge for 10 years after working as an assistance district attorney for Milwaukee County. She is president of the Milwaukee Trial Judges Association and secretary of the Association of Women Lawyers. While Dallet is also an avowed liberal, she advocates a more restrained approach to the bench than Burns.

Dallet’s judicial rulings reveal her liberal approach to justice. As recently uncovered by Right Wisconsin, Dallet sentenced a confessed pedophile to a mere two years in jail saying, “there wasn’t an extreme amount of harm. There wasn’t intercourse” as if a grown man repeatedly fondling the vaginal areas of two elementary school children was not serious enough to warrant a more severe penalty.

Dallet has been at the heart of the liberal criminal justice system in Milwaukee County that has enabled violence and crime to surge. If voters want the rest of Wisconsin to look more like Milwaukee County, then a vote for Dallet would be the way to go.

The third candidate is the only judicial conservative in the race. Judge Michael Screnock has served as a Sauk County Circuit Court judge since 2015, but he has a very well-rounded background with experience in education, the private sector, local government and the legal system. After earning a BS in mathematics from UW-Madison and an MBA with an emphasis in urban economic development, Screnock worked for the cities of Reedsburg, Washburn and Ashland before returning to UW-Madison to earn a law degree. Screnock then worked for Michael Best & Fredrich for nearly 10 years before Gov, Walker appointed him to the Sauk County Circuit Court.

Screnock has a traditionally conservative judicial philosophy rooted in restraint and deference to the other branches of government. Screnock believes that “the role of a judge or justice is to interpret and apply the law, not rewrite the law.” While such a statement seems like traditional common sense, it stands in stark contrast to the judicial philosophies of Burns and Dallet.

Wisconsinites have worked very hard over the last decade to build a conservative Supreme Court majority that upholds the law with humble respect for the role of the court. That work must continue by electing Judge Screnock to the court — first on Feb. 20 and again on April 3.

Battling for the Court

The race for the Wisconsin Supreme Court is shaping up to be quite… energetic.

The forum, moderated by University of Wisconsin-Madison Political Science professor Ryan Owens, in large part proved to be a bare- knuckle political brawl between the two left-leaning candidates, Madison attorney Tim Burns and Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet. The other candidate, Sauk County Circuit Judge Michael Screnock, the conservative in the race, mostly remained above the fray, periodically asserting that his opponents are effectively Activist Judge 1 and Activist Judge 2.

“Simply put, the role of the court is to be arbiters of the law, not policy analysts or political activists,” said Screnock, clearly at home at Federalists’ event. “My opponents do not share these views.”

The three candidates face off in a primary election scheduled for Feb. 20, with the two top vote-getters on the ballot for the April 3 general election.

I think Screnock lays out the lines in the race quite well. We have one candidate with a conservative judicial philosophy (Screnock). We have one candidate with a liberal judicial philosophy who maintains some decorum (Dallet). And we have one candidate with a liberal judicial philosophy who sounds like he wants to be the governor, legislature, and judiciary all in one (Burns). The fault lines are pretty clear.

West Bend School Board Quorum at Convention

This is interesting.

quorum

The deal is that four members of the West Bend School Board are attending this convention. That constitutes a quorum of the School Board, so they rightfully posted it. But this seems to violate Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law which states:

19.81 (2) To implement and ensure the public policy herein expressed, all meetings of all state and local governmental bodies shall be publicly held in places reasonably accessible to members of the public and shall be open to all citizens at all times unless otherwise expressly provided by law.

Is this conference generally open to the public? Can I just go sit in the meetings and watch? Is a meeting in Milwaukee “reasonable accessible to members of the public” from the West Bend School District?

It would seem prudent for one of the school board members to hang back to avoid any legal risk to the district.

Who will guard the guards themselves?

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Incidentally, my working title was “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes,” but my editor kindly translated it for y’all. Here you go:

Wisconsin’s Department of Justice was asked to investigate illegal leaks to the media by the now shuttered John Doe investigations. What the investigators found was more than just a few rogue prosecutors. They found a fascist political hit squad determined to use their police power to criminalize speech and silence their political opponents. Action must now be taken to punish the guilty and prevent it from ever happening again.

Wisconsin’s John Doe law allows a unique process where prosecutors are granted extraordinary powers to investigate in exchange for keeping everything secret. The intent of the law is to allow investigators to look for suspected criminal activity where there is not sufficient probable cause to use a normal investigatory process, but protect the reputations of those being investigated in the event no criminal acts are uncovered.

Leftist prosecutors and investigators abused this process as they hunted conservative people and groups in the wake of Gov. Scott Walker’s election in 2010. They used the broad powers granted to them under the John Doe process to sift through the lives of their political opponents while leaking selective information to the media. Then they used the process to silence the targets of their illegal investigations and did not even allow them to secure legal counsel for their own protections.

I strongly urge you to read the entire report written by the Department of Justice. It reveals behavior that would have been familiar to the Soviet Politburo in the 1950s, but it happened in Wisconsin in the 21st century. Here are a few of the more outrageous findings:

 They seized “millions of documents that had been created over a period of several years” by “29 organizations and individuals.” This was not a targeted investigation looking for a crime. It was a political operation sweeping up their opponents’ private information.

Much of that information was copied, placed on several digital drives, and distributed, but no record was kept of who made copies or to whom all of that private information was distributed.

 The prosecution team intentionally used Gmail and Dropbox accounts to avoid oversight.

 A key hard drive that Shane Falk used is missing. It contained all of the leaked documents.

 The specific information leaked was designed to influence the U.S. Supreme Court as it was considering a case related to the John Doe.

 After the court repeatedly ordered the investigators to cease their investigation, the investigators repeatedly and knowingly copied and distributed the captured information.

 After the court ordered all of the documents surrendered to the court, the DOJ found multiple caches of documents.

 Many of the ill-gotten documents were stored in a files labeled “opposition research,” indicating the real purpose for their collection.

 The John Doe persecutors also swept up and kept thousands of personal emails including private medical information. There is no rational investigatory value to these documents.

One has to read the entire report to fully appreciate the incredibly abusive behavior of a group of partisan activists using their broad investigatory powers to terrorize their political opponents.

Now that we can no longer hide behind the naïve illusion of impartial justice, we must act.

First, although the Government Accountability Board was rightly disbanded, many of the partisans who worked for it and were involved in the abuses of the John Doe persecutions just took new jobs working for the new Ethics and Elections Commissions. Anybody associated with those abuses must not be allowed in a similar position of power again. Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald have called for the resignations of those involved, but the bureaucrats have circled the wagons around their own. They have lost the mantle of impartial and dispassionate management of those Commissions. If they will not resign with honor, then they must be forced out with dishonor.

Second, the people directly involved in the abuses of the John Doe persecutions must be punished by whatever legal means available. This is important not only to punish the guilty, but to send the strong message that these kinds of abuses will not be tolerated in Wisconsin.

Third, Wisconsin must repeal the John Doe law. It is unique for a reason. It is unjust. The normal criminal justice process with all of the protections for victims and suspects that has grown through centuries of legal evolution is more than sufficient in dealing with suspected criminal activity. Government, secrecy and power rarely do a good job of protecting our civil liberties.

Finally, we must shed the misguided notion that great power can be so cavalierly handed to people presumed to be above petty human emotions and biases. We must reject any government entity that insists that it must operate in the shadows. No person is above corruption. No person is beyond the reach of our inherent sinful nature. Visibility and vigorous oversight must be our watchwords. Secrecy and unilateral power must be rejected.

Suspect Commissions Defend Staff

Of course they do.

The state’s ethics and elections commissions defended their staff Tuesday against Attorney General Brad Schimel’s report on a leak investigation stemming from a now-shuttered investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign.

The Wisconsin Ethics Commission criticized the report for “omissions and inaccuracies” and called on Schimel to acknowledge that ethics staff cooperated.

Schimel responded that a letter from ethics commission officials doesn’t list a specific error and accused commission chairman David Halbrooks of having a conflict in the matter because he was granted immunity in the John Doe investigation.

Meanwhile the state Elections Commission defended its administrator and a staff member against a call for their termination, while saying it will ask Walker for permission to hire an outside lawyer to represent them in matters related to Schimel’s report.

“Nothing in that report has caused us to question our support of interim administrator Michael Haas,” chairman Mark Thomsen said.

There’s the problem. What bothers me about this is that there is an utter lack of introspection. If nothing else, given that these commissions are tasked with upholding the campaign and ethics laws, they would want to be above reproach. Even the appearance of bias or corruption should be a cause for concern. If they were serious about their jobs, I would have expected a statement that said something like, “the report has serious accusations that deserve a thorough review.”

Instead, we get a knee-jerk defense, claims of inaccuracies without proof or specifics, and the erection of a wall around their staff. These are not people who are serious about the truth and yet they are in charge of impartially judging the ethics of others? Puhlease.

Doe Judge to Step Down Because of Bias

Remember. He’s not stepping down because he’s biased. He’s stepping down because he was caught being biased.

MADISON – The John Doe judge overseeing possible contempt proceedings of nine state officials withdrew from the case Friday because he had posted comments about the case on Twitter before he was assigned the case this spring.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge William Hue said he had forgotten about the posts until the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel asked him about them on Thursday. He said Friday he was disappointed to be losing an interesting case but thought he needed to step aside so no one questioned whether the judge hearing the case was impartial.

“I don’t want to be the focus of any attention here,” Hue said.

Wisconsin DOJ Confirms that GAB Was Rogue Partisan Board

The findings of this report are absolutely stunning and reveal the inner workings of a government agency using its power against political opponents.

This is what fascism looks like

More to come.

SCOTUS Allows Travel Ban

It’s moot now, but important to reestablish the point.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday allowed the Trump administration to fully enforce a ban on travel to the United States by residents of six mostly Muslim countries.

This is not a final ruling on the travel ban: Challenges to the policy are winding through the federal courts, and the justices themselves ultimately are expected to rule on its legality.

But the action indicates that the high court might eventually approve the latest version of the ban, announced by President Donald Trump in September. Lower courts have continued to find problems with the policy.

Gorsuch Impresses

This is still Trump’s single greatest achievement to date.

Justice Neil Gorsuch didn’t disappoint them, just as he hasn’t in his first seven months on the Supreme Court.

“Tonight I can report that a person can be both a publicly committed originalist and textualist and be confirmed to the Supreme Court,” Gorsuch said to sustained applause from members of the Federalist Society, using terms by which conservatives often seek to distinguish themselves from more liberal judges.

The 50-year-old justice has been almost exactly what conservatives hoped for and liberals dreaded when he joined the court in April. He has consistently, even aggressively, lined up with the court’s most conservative justices. He has even split with Chief Justice John Roberts, viewed by some as insufficiently conservative because of his two opinions upholding President Barack Obama’s health law.

During arguments, Gorsuch has asked repeatedly about the original understanding of parts of the Constitution and laws, and he has raised questions about some long-standing court precedents, including the civil rights landmark ruling on “one person, one vote.

Manafort Charged

It looks like the special prosecutor just got its first arrest, but it appears unrelated to anything to do with its charter.

President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and Manafort’s longtime business associate Rick Gates will surrender today to federal authorities in Washington, D.C., according to sources with direct knowledge.

Manafort and Gates would be the first charges in the special counsel‘s five-month investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russia.

Manafort originally emerged as a key figure in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry because of consulting work he did in 2014 on behalf of the Ukrainian government.

Abrahamson AWOL

Hope she’s OK.

 (AP) — Longtime Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson was absent from court arguments and closed-door discussions Monday without explanation.

Chief Justice Pat Roggensack announced from the bench that Abrahamson would miss oral arguments in three cases the court heard that day and was not participating in the decisions. Roggensack did not give a reason for the absence.

Abrahamson did not recuse herself from the cases.

Court spokesman Tom Sheehan said that Abrahamson did not provide a reason for her absence. It is highly unusual for a justice to miss arguments without explanation.

Unsent Text Serves as Last Will and Testament

Fascinating.

A court in Australia has accepted an unsent, draft text message on a dead man’s mobile phone as an official will.

The 55-year-old man had composed a text message addressed to his brother, in which he gave “all that I have” to his brother and nephew.

The message was found in the drafts folder on the man’s phone after he took his own life last year .

Brisbane Supreme Court ruled that the wording of the text indicated that the man intended it to act as his will.

In the message, the man gave details of how to access his bank account and where he had hidden money in his house.

“Put my ashes in the back garden,” he wrote. “A bit of cash behind TV and a bit in the bank.”

According to ABC News, the man’s wife applied to manage his assets and argued that the text message was not valid as a will because it was never sent.

Typically, for a will to be valid in Queensland, it must be written and signed by two witnesses.

As technology evolves, so does everyone’s jurisprudence.

Frankly, I agree with the wife. The fact that he killed himself is relevant. If he met an untimely demise, then perhaps an unsent text would be relevant. But given the fact that he chose the moment of his own death, his unwillingness to send the text first indicates that he didn’t intend for it to be his final word.

UWO Wants to Force Taxpayers to Back Bad Investments

Argh.

OSHKOSH – The bankrupt University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Foundation is asking a judge to force the UW System to help cover its debt from what the state calls improperly funded real estate deals.

In a complaint filed Tuesday in federal bankruptcy court, the UW-Oshkosh Foundation argues that a series of loan guarantees signed by former UWO Chancellor Richard Wells and former Vice Chancellor Tom Sonnleitner commit the system to back the foundation’s debt on a string of showpiece building projects, including the Alumni Welcome and Conference Center.

The foundation filed for bankruptcy in August after becoming buried in debt on the center and four other building projects. The case could cost taxpayers millions if a judge agrees that Wells’ so-called “comfort letters” commit the system to that debt.

It’s likely that the case will turn on whether or not Wells had the legal authority, and if the foundation people knew that he didn’t have that authority, to obligate the taxpayers to back a private investment.

And this is just infuriating.

In its complaint, the foundation argues it would never have embarked on the building projects without the system’s backing, and banks wouldn’t have lent money for them.

So let’s think this through… the UWO Foundation is admitting that these were crappy investments that they wouldn’t have made with their own money – nor would any bank – and yet they were willing to move ahead with them if the taxpayers were willing to pick up the bill. That kind of reckless disregard for the taxpayers’ hard-earned money is far too common.

Justice Gives Speech at Trump Hotel

Most. Ridiculous. Complaint. Ever.

Washington (AFP) – Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch was under fire Thursday as he prepared to deliver a speech at a Washington hotel owned by US President Donald Trump, who appointed him to the bench.

Denouncing it as a conflict of interest and apparent display of political support, which is prohibited by the Constitution, activists, lawyers and academics have unsuccessfully sought the cancellation of Gorsuch’s speech at a luncheon at the Trump International Hotel.

Justices at the US Supreme Court may participate in events organized by institutes with clear political stances — such as the conservative Fund for American Studies which organized Thursday’s lunch — but for critics, the fact that Gorsuch is a featured speaker at Trump’s hotel raises ethical issues.

Summit Credit Union Sues Equifax

It’s tough to see how Equifax survives this. But it is also an important message to businesses that they must take data security seriously.

It states that Equifax was negligent in securing its website from the hacker intrusion, in failing to detect the intrusion for weeks and in failing to notify consumers of the breach for nearly six weeks. Equifax also knew or should have known that its data security measures were inadequate, the lawsuit states.

Summit, with $2.6 billion in assets, 34 locations in Wisconsin and more than 162,000 members, is asking for orders temporarily and permanently barring Equifax from negligent business practices that are alleged in the lawsuit, along with unspecified costs, restitution and damages.

“Financial institutions often incur the costs of fraud due to others’ data breaches,” Summit said in a statement issued Friday. “Equifax may be the largest compromise in U.S. history, and we believe Equifax should cover any losses incurred due to their breach.”

On another note, if you want a job right now, get into IT security.

Man Indicted for Frauding WEDC

Good.

A Green Bay-area businessman has been indicted on federal charges for allegedly defrauding the state’s job-creation agency of more than $1 million, U.S. Attorney Gregory Haanstad announced Wednesday.

The indictment of Ron Van Den Heuvel, owner of Green Box NA, for alleged fraud and money laundering marks the first time criminal charges have been leveled against a business owner who received taxpayer funding from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

According to the indictment filed in federal court Tuesday, Van Den Heuvel allegedly devised a scheme that ended up defrauding $9 million from WEDC, acquaintances and investors from Canada and China between 2011 and 2015.

WEDC loaned $1.12 million to Green Box on Oct. 21, 2011, according to the indictment. The funds were supposed to help the company create 116 jobs by December 2014 as part of a more than $13 million project to turn fast-food wrappers and other waste paper into synthetic fuel and paper products while producing zero waste, according to agency records.

Van Den Heuvel persuaded WEDC and other investors to give him money by falsely claiming he had entered into agreements with major companies to advance Green Box’s operations and produced false financial statements that grossly inflated his personal wealth and financial situation, the indictment said.

Sometimes investments don’t work out or one doesn’t get the anticipated results, but when someone commits outright fraud, we should throw the book at them.