Judge orders document release in John Doe probe; Trooper’s widow gets $11 million civil settlement; 10 more state items
A federal judge has ordered the public release of over 100 documents connected with the John Doe probe into the state's recall election campaigns -- including the one against Gov. Scott Walker.
Wisconsin Public Radio said Milwaukee Judge Rudolph Randa issued the order last night after both sides in a federal civil rights lawsuit agreed with media groups that the documents be made public.
The records involve a suit filed by the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which contended that the John Doe probe violated free speech rights by keeping the group silent during the current election year.
The release order does not affect a separate state case that seeks to shut down the John Doe. Randa twice ordered the shutdown of the investigation last week. Prosecutors are appealing the latest order. But even if it does resume, an attorney for special prosecutor Francis Schmitz said the case has become so widely known that "maintaining the integrity of the investigation may no longer justify maintaining secrecy."
Randa did honor a request by the Club for Growth to keep four documents secret because they contain confidential information.
Trooper’s widow gets $11 million civil settlement
The widow of an Illinois state trooper killed when his squad car was hit by a Wisconsin trucker has won an $11 million settlement.
Elizabeth Sauter filed a wrongful death suit against truck driver Andrew Bokelman of Lomira and the companies he was working for at the time. The woman's husband, Trooper James Sauter, was killed in March of last year.
Prosecutors said Bokelman, 26, fell asleep behind the wheel on the I-294 toll way near Chicago, and the rig hit Sauter's patrol car and pushed it 540 feet along a median in the center.
Officials said Bokelman had worked a 12-hour shift that day and was on the road for two more hours when the crash occurred. He was driving a trailer full of household goods to Kentucky.
Bokelman was charged last November with three felonies for violating safety rules designed to keep tired truckers off the road.
Yesterday, a judge approved a civil settlement Sauter's wife reached with Bokelman, United Van Lines, Barrett Moving and Storage and Unigroup Inc.
Common Core debate goes local
With the Legislature out of session, the debate over Wisconsin's Common Core education standards has cooled down at the Capitol and has heated up elsewhere.
Last night in Marshfield, about 300 people attended a forum put on by a major Common Core opponent, UW-Oshkosh professor Duke Pesta.
A Republican bill designed to gut the three-year-old standards failed to pass in the final days of the recent legislative session.
State Supt. Tony Evers and other educators say the more rigorous Common Core helps students prepare for a complex world. Pewaukee's superintendent credits them for a rise in her schools' ACT test scores.
Pesta said the concept has gone beyond rigorous, calling it developmentally inappropriate. He also said some of it is too graphic for younger kids.
Only a half dozen states have not adopted Common Core, leading to concerns by tea party critics that a single national education system is taking shape. One Republican said Wisconsin should stop aligning itself with states where test scores are dropping.
State schools have adopted English and math Common Core standards with science and social studies on the way.
One of the most notable things about last night's forum was the extensive way it was promoted in Marshfield. The event had more yard signs than city residents see in many political campaigns.
Man pleads not guilty to shooting aunt and uncle
A Wausau man has pleaded not guilty to shooting and wounding an aunt and uncle 12 days ago.
Kyle Schaefer, 21, waived his right to a preliminary hearing yesterday and was arraigned on a count of attempted homicide and three charges of reckless endangerment.
Investigators say they still don't know why the incident happened. Officials said Schaefer brought a .22-caliber rifle upstairs from a basement and shot Patrick and Sandra Schmitt while they were playing cards with friends at the couple's home near Wausau. Witnesses told officers that Schaefer was distraught over losing his job and the recent death of a grandmother, but it's not known whether those events triggered the shootings.
Both victims have since been released from a Wausau hospital.
Pretrial requests will be discussed at a conference June 13. Schaefer remains in the Marathon County Jail under a $1 million bond.
--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau
June trial set for woman who backed over three-year-old boy
A trial date of June 25 has been set for a northeast Wisconsin woman accused of killing a toddler while backing out of a driveway.
Forest County prosecutors said Shanice Stands of Crandon was high on marijuana when her vehicle struck a three-year-old boy in September 2010. He died later that night at a Rhinelander hospital.
Stands was 17 at the time, and authorities said she did have a driver's license -- only a learner's permit issued in neighboring Minnesota. She's now 21, and she's free on a signature bond awaiting a three-day trial on two felony counts of causing death by negligent driving and while using controlled substances.
Online court records show that Stands also has a July 24 trial date on separate Forest County charges of second-time OWI, possession of marijuana and two other drug-related counts. Stands also has a pretrial conference set for June 25 on four felony bail jumping charges.
Loan, tax breaks lure sour cream company to Ohio
A food processing plant in Kenosha County will shut down in January and move the production to its headquarters in Ohio.
Lakeview Farms has told state officials it will start cutting 155 jobs in August at its plant in Bristol. The maker of dips, gelatins and sour cream recently announced plans to add 200 jobs at its headquarters in Delphos about 60 miles north of Dayton, Ohio. News reports say Ohio state officials have agreed to provide a loan and tax credits to help pay for the expansion.
Former Assembly leader goes to court on groping charges
Former state Assembly Majority Leader Bill Kramer is due in court this morning on charges that he groped a woman's breasts in 2011.
A Waukesha County judge will determine if there's enough evidence to send Kramer, 49, to trial on two felony counts of second-degree sexual assault. If he's bound over, his attorney has said that Kramer would plead not guilty. Normally, that would happen later during an arraignment.
Kramer was charged in March, a few weeks after reports that he groped a woman and sexually harassed another in February on a GOP fundraising trip to Washington.
After that came out, an ex-congressional staffer said Kramer groped her and asked for sex following a Republican event in Muskego. That's the case for which he's being charged. Kramer told police he kissed the woman good night but denied groping her.
Assembly Republicans removed Kramer as the majority leader of the lower house after reports of the February incident. He's not running for reelection this fall after eight years in the Assembly, but Kramer rejected calls by lawmakers of both parties to step down before his current term ends in early January.
Cancer, heart disease still the leading causes of death
Cancer and heart disease continue to be the leading causes of death in Wisconsin.
The state Health Services Department has just issued a report showing that the overall death rate held steady during 2012, the most recent year in which figures were available. About 8.4 every 1,000 died that year -- same as the previous year.
Cancer and heart disease caused 47% of Wisconsin's total deaths in 2012, and accidents were the third-leading cause. For younger people, accidents were the main killer for both men and women 44 and younger.
The state said 48,225 people died in the Badger State in 2012. That was 125 more than the year before.
Driver says, ‘Buckle up’ -- again
Once again, Donald Driver will try to convince us to buckle up when we're on the road.
For the third straight year, Driver will be the face of the annual Memorial Day "Click It or Ticket" seatbelt enforcement campaign. Today, the Packers' all-time leading receiver and "Dancing With the Stars" champion will hold a news conference with Department of Transportation officials to promote the renewal of "Click It or Ticket."
The campaign runs from Monday through June 1. TV ads with Driver are already on the air. He'll also be in statewide radio and online messages urging us to wear our seat belts.
Last summer, a DOT survey showed that 83% of motorists were buckled up. That's an all-time high, and officials gave "Click It or Ticket" part of the credit.
Officers from 375 agencies looked for unbuckled motorists during last year's campaign -- the most ever. Before last year, seat belt usage in Wisconsin had not noticeably changed since 2010. That was the year after police started the so-called "primary enforcement" in which they no longer had to find other traffic violations to give people $10 tickets for not buckling up.
Appeals court overturns state’s campaign finance law
A federal appeals court has struck down much of Wisconsin's campaign finance law.
But the impact is not as drastic as it sounds because the state had agreed in 2010 to stop enforcing major campaign ad regulations anyway.
Yesterday's ruling by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago stemmed from a lawsuit filed by Wisconsin Right to Life, which challenged limits on so-called "issue ads" -- the ones that highlight a candidate's position on issues but do not tell people who to vote for or against.
The Club for Growth and One Wisconsin Now also challenged the rules. In those cases, the Government Accountability Board had agreed not to enforce key parts of them. That included a requirement to say who put up the money for the ads in many cases.
Appellate Judge Diane Sykes said Wisconsin's laws are hard to interpret without having a legal background in campaign finance. Sykes said the state laws had not kept up with U.S. Supreme Court decisions in recent years which limited the government's power to regulate campaign ads.
Among other things, the appellate court ruling said Wisconsin's longtime ban on political spending by corporations was unconstitutional. That, too, had not been enforced since 2010 after a similar national ban was struck down by the justices in Washington.
DNR finds no proof of fighting between wolves and hunting dogs
The state Department of Natural Resources said it found no evidence that wolves and hunting dogs had vicious fights during last fall's wolf season.
Some animal rights advocates were afraid there would be many clashes after the state allowed the use of hunting dogs for the first time last year.
But officials said any evidence of law violations was inconclusive after the skinned carcasses of 27 wolves were examined. They were among 35 wolves killed by hunters who used dogs.
The DNR's Dave McFarland told Wisconsin Public Radio there were minor bite wounds on one wolf with partially removed pelt, and the species which caused the wound was not determined. Rachel Tilseth, who's with the Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin, said she did not believe the exams were thorough.
Work begins on interstate near Janesville
One of Wisconsin's busiest interstates will be under construction starting next week.
Pavement repairs begin Monday on I-39/90 in both directions between Janesville and Edgerton.
All lanes will stay open during the day with all lane closures coming at night. Various ramps will close throughout the project.
The total cost is just under $9 million, and it's expected to be finished in October. Plans call for I-39/90 to eventually add lanes between Madison and Beloit at the Illinois line.