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Judge says no to new trial in sexual assault civil case

A second trial has been denied in a lawsuit that sought monetary damages from a substitute teacher who sexually abused a 13-year-old Pierce County boy in 2007.

In a decision filed May 24, Judge Joseph Boles refused to set aside the jury's decision in the case filed on behalf of the young man and by his father, Christopher Brekken, Prescott, against Anne M. Knopf, now 44, Ellsworth.

The 12-person Pierce County jury had awarded no damages to the teen or to his father. In the motion for a new trial filed Feb. 6, Brekken attorney Michael D. Schwartz, Oakdale, Minn., claimed the jury's verdict was "perverse, inconsistent and fails in its inherent purpose to achieve justice."

In July 2008, Knopf pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual assault of child related to encounters with the boy when he was a middle school student. She was sentenced to nine months in jail and five years on probation.

In October 2008, the boy's father filed a civil suit against Knopf, asking for damages for his son and himself.

More than four years later, the case came to trial. After hearing testimony in January, jurors answered a 21-question verdict form, finding Knopf's conduct was "extreme and outrageous," and she caused emotional distress to both the boy and his father, but awarded them nothing for battery or emotional distress or for punitive damages.

The jury found Knopf did not intentionally cause offensive contact with the boy and she did not intend to cause emotional distress to him or his father.

After receiving written briefs from both sides and hearing oral arguments from the attorneys in March, Boles issued a four-page decision, responding, point by point, to the issues raised by the plaintiffs' attorney.

Schwartz claimed it was a prejudicial error for the judge not to answer the first two questions on the verdict form rather than put those questions to the jury. The attorney argued it was clear Knopf had intentionally caused offense contact (battery) with the boy and he had not consented to the contact.

Boles responded Schwartz hadn't objected to the first question being put to jurors and specifically agreed the second question should be on the verdict form. In failing to object when the questions were being prepared, the attorney gave up rights to claim an error after the trial, wrote the judge.

Schwartz argued Knopf's admitting to the sexual intercourse requires an inference in law she intended to harm the boy.

"(The) court cannot infer intent to injure merely because the intentional act violated the criminal law," responded Boles. He said the court can "infer intent to injure" only in narrow circumstances, and the correct decision was to allow the jury to decide.

Schwartz also argued the jurors' decision to allow $25,000 for the boy's future medical expenses and $2,600 for past medical expenses was inconsistent with their finding that she had not caused offensive bodily contact. Because the jury didn't find grounds to sustain the battery claim, Knopf is not responsible for the medical costs.

The jury, said the judge, was directed to answer the compensation questions regardless of how they answered the previous questions. Therefore, he said, the answers aren't inconsistent with jurors' answer to the first question.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.

(715) 426-1049
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