Update: St. Croix, Dunn counties reported heaviest rain from Thursday's storms; Senate confirms judgeship after 5-year wait; more state news
Most of Wisconsin escaped the severe weather that neighboring Minnesota had last night but far western Wisconsin did get some of the spillover.
Almost 2.5 inches of rain fell near Hudson while River Falls recorded 85-hundreths of an inch. Highway 29 near Menomonie had up to 3 inches of water. In Pierce County, a fallen tree blocked Highway 35 and nearby Elmwood also reported some downed trees.
A St. Croix Highway Department maintainer was called out late afternoon Thursday to clear a large downed tree limb from a roadway on the county's east side.
Parts of southeast Wisconsin had hail last evening -- three-fourths of an inch at Jackson. Much of Minnesota had heavy storms including a tornado at Gaylord and 80-mile-per-hour winds at Waseca.
Most of those storms fizzed out before they could head east into Wisconsin. A cold front was expected to sweep across the Badger State Friday. Forecasters said the front will bring with it some light rain. Thereafter, it should stay dry at least into Saturday night when another wave of thunderstorms could pass through. There's also a chance of rain on Mother's Day. Highs are forecast in the 60's and 70's in most of the state through the weekend. Cool weather is forecast for Monday and beyond.
After 5-year wait, Senate confirms Madison attorney for federal judgeship
The U.S. Senate voted 70 -to 24 Thursday to confirm Madison attorney James Peterson for a Wisconsin federal judgeship that's been vacant for five years.
Peterson will replace the late John Shabaz in a court that's based in Madison and serves roughly the western half of the state.
All of Thursday's no votes came from Republicans. President Obama nominated Peterson after he was recommended by a state selection panel formed by both Wisconsin senators.
Republican Ron Johnson called it a successful bi-partisan process, and Democrat Tammy Baldwin called Peterson a well-qualified jurist who will serve the state and the nation well.
The judgeship has been vacant since 2009, because Obama tried four times to get former State Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler to fill the post. Republicans on Capitol Hill kept casting Butler aside, noting that he lost a statewide election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2008.
Peterson will leave his job as head of the Intellectual Property and Litigation Practice Groups in the Madison office of Godfrey & Kahn S.C.
He'll join former Godfrey & Kahn shareholder Bill Duffin, who was recently appointed and sworn in as a Magistrate Judge for the United States District Court in the Eastern District of Wisconsin.
Fight over John Doe suit involving Walker continues
Prosecutors have again asked a federal appeals court to keep alive the John Doe probe into the GOP's recall election campaigns involving Gov. Scott Walker among others.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that the probe should continue but Milwaukee District Judge Rudolph Randa shut it down Thursday for the second time this week.
This time, Randa said an appeal from prosecutors earlier in the case was frivolous. The judge said prosecutors had no business claiming they were immune from being sued.
The John Doe probe has been looking into alleged illegal coordination between outside groups and Republican candidates in the 2011-and-'12 recall elections -- including the governor.
Democrats have used the case to slam Walker as he runs for re-election this fall. One of the main targets of the John Doe, the Wisconsin Club for Growth, filed the original lawsuit. It said the investigation violated its free speech rights -- and Randa agreed on Tuesday.
Randall Crocker, an attorney for the prosecutors, disagreed that his side's claim of immunity was frivolous. Crocker said it will be up to a higher court to decide that.
Meanwhile, the Club for Growth's attorney plans to get depositions in the case soon. David Rivkin said prosecutors and perhaps some politicians might have to provide sworn testimony.
Seemed abandoned trains, blocked crossings are topic of rail-citizen dialog
JUNCTION CITY -- Wisconsin's railroad chief looked on, as folks near Stevens Point complained to the Canadian National about freight trains blocking their way for hours.
Commissioner Jeff Plale, Portage County District Attorney Lou Molepske, and railroad official Kevin Soucie were among 65 people at a meeting at the Junction City Armory last night about the growing problems of trains blocking roads.
Earlier this year, the Associated Press said engineers throughout Wisconsin were leaving trains seemingly anywhere at the end of their workdays, partially because of a ten-hour federal driving limit, and partially because of the brutal winter.
Soucie said the winter caused problems with air brakes, and it's partially why there are backlogs in rail traffic.
Folks from Amherst to Spencer told how their lives have been affected by the road blockages. Molepske said a mother almost didn't make it to a hospital to have a baby. A man with a burning truck couldn't get the fire department to show up right away. And school kids in Auburndale have walked under railroad cars to get where they're going.
Soucie said he heard many of the complaints for the first time. Molepske said the railroad pays fines for breaking local clearance rules.
The district attorney fears that the company just sees it as a cost of doing business, and that nothing will get done.
Junction City Village President Peter Mallek said he's given the railroad some ideas, such as extending passing rails to the west of town.
Mallek said he hoped the meeting would foster cooperation, but he still favors enforcement powers.
-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau
DNA evidence may influence outcome of vehicular homicide trial
MERRILL -- The defense was expected to start making its case this morning in the trial of Ashley Baumann, a Merrill woman accused of killing two friends in a high-speed drunk driving crash.
The prosecution rested Thursday in Lincoln County Circuit Court after it brought in more witnesses to refute the defense theory that the lone survivor of the crash took the wheel at the last minute and caused the mishap.
Crime Lab analyst Jennifer Honkanen said hair embedded in the driver's door carried Baumann's DNA. State Patrol accident reconstruction expert Thomas Erdmann refuted a possibility that Baumann's hair could have gotten there by high winds generated by a medical helicopter that landed nearby.
Authorities said the 26-year-old Baumann was driving at almost 100-miles-an-hour when her van rolled into a field in June of 2012, killing passengers Jessica Hartwig and Misty Glisch.
The defendant had a blood alcohol level almost twice the legal limit five hours after the crash. Crime Lab analyst Molly Ross said it was likely up .29 at the time of the accident, which would have been 3.5 times the legal limit of .08.
-- WSAU, Wausau
Dredging PCB-tainted silt will cost $15 million
MILWAUKEE -- About 36,000 cubic yards of contaminated muck will be removed this year from the Milwaukee River.
The state Department of Natural Resources says there are nine areas of sediment contaminated with cancer-causing PCB's. They're located on a mile stretch of the river in Milwaukee, between Lincoln Park and the Estabrook Park Dam.
The DNR's Marsha Burzynski says most of the muck will be disposed of in landfills -- and about 500 cubic yards of highly-contaminated sediment will have to go to licensed facilities outside the Badger State.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency will pay most of the clean-up cost, which is estimated at $15 million.
Previously, about 125,000 cubic yards of sediment with PCB's were removed from the same area. An informational meeting on the new dredging will be held May 20th at Lincoln Park.
Truck-building crash at UW-Marathon County doesn't disrupt show
WAUSAU -- The show continued even as a sport utility vehicle slammed into a building where a jazz concert was taking place last night at UW-Marathon County campus in Wausau.
No one was hurt, including the driver, but part of the vehicle landed about two feet inside the audio control room of the theater where 250 people were watching the show.
Student Anne Jagler tells WAOW TV she was sitting near the back of the theater when there was a loud crash, and people scattered out of the sound-check room. She said everyone kept their cool, as the concert continued.
The theater itself was not affected. Wausau fire officials said the crash damaged heat lines in the building, and maintenance crews quickly found a leak.
Altoona, Cadott schools capitalizing on recent school-year duration law change
Wisconsin schools are wasting no time taking advantage of a new state law that threw out the required 180-day school year.
Altoona, near Eau Claire, decided not to make up two days of classes called off due to the excessive cold and snow from this past winter.
District administrator Connie Bierdron said the last day of school is back to June 11th.
Gov. Scott Walker signed the new law a month ago, right after both houses quickly passed it. It still requires various numbers of classroom hours for certain grades -- and Bierdron says Altoona will have held those hours.
Also, Cadott schools in Chippewa County will shut down earlier than they planned, by adding 10 minutes to each of their remaining school days.
School officials said brutal winters require more flexibility for their class requirements. Rural schools also said the option for fewer but longer days will save gas money on their long bus routes.
Missing plate wasn't probable cause for stop that yielded drug charges
A Wisconsin appeals court has thrown out a drug-dealing conviction against a Michigan man, saying police improperly stopped a car where the evidence was found. An East Troy officer stopped 44-year-old Richard Houghton Junior in 2012, because he didn't have a front license plate -- and an air freshener and a GPS unit obstructed views through his windshield.
During the traffic stop, the officer found marijuana and a scale -- and Houghton was charged with a felony count of possessing pot with the intent to deliver.
In Walworth County Circuit Court, Houghton argued that the marijuana evidence was obtained illegally because the traffic stop was improper and it was okay not to have a front license plate, because his home state of Michigan doesn't require one.
Circuit Judge John Race said the traffic stop was justified because the officer shouldn't have to know which states don't require front plates. Houghton pleaded guilty and then appealed.
State prosecutors told the Second District Appellate court that the officer was wrong to stop him because of the license plate but prosecutors still claimed the air freshener and the GPS unit illegally caused obstructions to the driver. The appellate judges rejected those arguments this week.
Milwaukee region will get premier of film starring Kenosha native
MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee is one of five cities where a Home Box Office cable movie will get an early premiere.
"The Normal Heart" will be shown May 21st at the Landmark Oriental Theatre, four days before TV viewers get to see it.
The film stars Kenosha native Mark Ruffalo along with Julia Roberts and Jim Parsons.
"The Normal Heart" reminds us what the AIDS crisis was like in New York when the disease was first discovered in the early 1980's. The film is based on a Tony-award winning play by Larry Kramer.
Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and Atlanta will also have early premiers.
Milwaukee was chosen as the result of a partnership between HBO and the Milwaukee Film organization. HBO also cites high viewership of its movie channels in southeast Wisconsin.
Mumps outbreak on campuses linked to spring break trips
Wisconsin now has 27 confirmed cases of the mumps this spring.
Milwaukee health officials confirmed four cases Thursday -- two at UW-Milwaukee and two elsewhere in the state's largest city. U-W Madison has also reported some new cases, bringing the total there to 12.
It's the first time in two years that the state has seen any cases of the mumps, a highly-contagious disease spread by kissing, sharing food or utensils, or even talking to another person.
Officials said young adults brought the disease to Wisconsin in late March, from the trips they took on spring break. All 27 cases involve young people, and about half are college students.
Officials said three-fourths of the infected people were fully vaccinated but what was supposed to be lifetime immunity failed for some reason.
Paul Biedrzycki of the Milwaukee Health Department fears that the mumps will spread once colleges finish their spring semesters soon. The disease incubates for up to three weeks before symptoms appear that include fever and body aches.
Milwaukee-area pastor to lead Bob Jones University
A Milwaukee area pastor will become the new president of Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C.
Trustees have chosen Steve Pettit to lead the fundamentalist Christian school, which has about 3,000 students. Pettit will replace Stephen Jones, who stepped down for health reasons.
Pettit is currently the national director of Cross Impact Ministeries, a Brookfield group that helps churches reach out to college students.
He also heads an evangelistic association which carries his name.