WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Federal appeals court strikes down SSM ban in Wisconsin & Indiana
CHICAGO - A federal appeals court struck down same-sex marriage bans in Wisconsin and Indiana this afternoon. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago called the 2006 ban unconstitutional -- and a three-judge panel scolded officials in both states for the reasons they gave to keep the bans.
The appellate judges said the only rationale the states made with any conviction was that same-sex couples cannot produce children. The court's 40-page opinion said the states' reasoning was "so full of holes, that it cannot be taken seriously." The attorneys general of both Wisconsin and Indiana appealed district court decisions which struck down their gay marriage bans. Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said he would appeal today's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice spokeswoman Dana Brueck said the gay marriage ban will stay in place until all appeals are exhausted. That was after Madison Federal Judge Barbara Crabb put a hold on her ruling in June which found the gay marriage ban unconstitutional.
U.S. House Democrat Gwen Moore of Milwaukee was arrested today at a rally in Milwaukee where three dozen demonstrators called for a higher minimum wage. Her office spokesman Eric Harris said Moore was hauled away by West Milwaukee Police for blocking traffic outside a McDonald's on Miller Park Way near the Brewers' baseball stadium. The rally's organizers, Wisconsin Jobs Now, said 27 fast food employees were also arrested. There was no immediate word on what happened when Moore got to police headquarters. The group tweeted a photo of Moore being handcuffed with a yellow zip tie, because her arm was in a sling after she broke her elbow in a fall last week. Moore has been a long-time supporter of the group's call to have fast-food workers make $15-dollars an hour -- and have the right to unionize with harassment. In a statement, Moore said she took "great pride in supporting Milwaukee workers as they risk arrest in pursuit of a brighter tomorrow for their families." Milwaukee, Madison, and Wausau were among the 150 U.S. cities where minimum wage rallies were scheduled for today.
Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has taken back her comments from yesterday, in which she said Governor Scott Walker gave "the back of his hand" to women on issues involving them. In a statement this afternoon, Wasserman Schultz said the comments she made at a Milwaukee round-table should not detract from her larger point -- that Walker's policies have been bad for women. After making her Milwaukee comments, the Florida congresswoman refused to talk to reporters about it at two events in Wausau. Her own party's candidate for Wisconsin governor, Mary Burke, distanced herself from the remarks. Her campaign said Burke would never use terms like slapping in pointing out political disagreements.
About $25,000 Wisconsin electric customers were without power late this morning, as more thunderstorms went through the Badger State. The Public Service utility had the most outages, over $19,000 in central and northeast areas. Most of those were in-and-around Rhinelander, Tomahawk, Minocqua, and Three Lakes. The National Weather Service said trees and-or power lines fell at Minocqua, Ladysmith, Cumberland, Fifield, Siren, Webster, and Hertel. More hail fell throughout the northern third of Wisconsin -- including the northwest, which had a three-hour hailstorm last evening. Tennis-ball-sized hail fell this morning near Rhinelander and Lake Tomahawk. Hail covered the ground near Hayward. Little Round Lake in Sawyer County had wind gusts of 62-miles-an-hour. In southern Wisconsin, rain was the biggest problem -- tons of it. Paoli in Dane County had four-point-two-inches of rainfall between three-and-eight o'clock this morning. Stoughton had over three inches, Janesville two, and Middleton one-point-nine. Some streets in Madison were reported to be flooded. A good chance for more showers and thunderstorms is in the statewide forecast at least through tomorrow.
A former Dane County sheriff's deputy was ordered today to stand trial for the killings of his wife and her sister. Circuit Judge Steven Ebert said there was enough evidence to proceed in the case of 39-year-old Andrew Steele of Fitchburg. His attorney asked for a new judge. Court officials assigned Circuit Judge David Flanagan. The next step in the case is an arraignment where Steele's initial plea will be entered. Andrew Steele is charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide in the deaths of Ashlee Steele and her sister Kacee Tollefsbol. A detective testified that he found Tollefsbol shot in the basement of Steele's home on August 22nd -- and she told authorities before she died to say that Andrew Steele had just shot her. Steele resigned from the sheriff's department in June, soon after he was diagnosed with ALS.
A Sheboygan man is charged with three counts of burglary, after police said he was caught eating leftovers from one of the homes he broke into. Thirty-nine year old Ryan Lodygowski was jailed under a one-thousand-dollar bond. He's due back in Sheboygan County Circuit Court next Wednesday for a preliminary hearing. According to prosecutors, Lodygowski ran off after the homeowner caught him dining from the fridge -- and he dropped credit cards on the way out. He still reportedly got away with the victim's keys and $30. Authorities said Lodygowski also broke into a neighboring home, where an I-phone and I-pad were stolen. The victim said he used an app to find his phone in a garbage can. Police also said they found a digital camera in the suspect's backpack that was stolen in a church break-in. A-thousand dollars and a laptop were stolen in that crime. All three incidents occurred in late August.
Miller-Coors is suing 14 people and 15 companies for allegedly running a scheme to embezzle over ten-million dollars from the brewing giant over at least 13 years. The company filed a civil suit in Milwaukee County. It accused former marketing executive David Colletti of Oconomowoc and his wife of forming a fake business to accept the embezzled money. Colletti and others were also suspected of starting other false operations which submitted fake bills to Miller-Coors. The lawsuit indicated that none of the defendants cooperated with a long investigation by the company.
A Burlington area woman will spend eight years in prison for providing the drugs that killed a 53-year-old man. Thirty-eight year old Kristie Fitzgerald must also spend 12 years under extended supervision and three years on probation. Also, Racine County Circuit Judge Charles Constantine told Fitzgerald to visit the grave of David Buchholtz once a year. He died from an overdose just over a year ago after buying heroin, Oxycontin, and sub-oxone from Fitzgerald. A jury convicted Fitzgerald in mid-July for reckless homicide and several other charges. The sentence was shorter than what prosecutors recommended, but Judge Constantine said Fitzgerald needs treatment for her own drug addictions. He also noted that the victim's addictions played a role in his death. Buchholtz's family asked the judge to make Fitzgerald visit the cemetery.
Police in Menomonie are investigating an incident in which a drunk driver allegedly struck two police officers on bicycles, and then fled the scene. According to police, officers Daniel Westlund and Maloree Switlick were on bike patrol early Tuesday when a vehicle hit them and drove away. Switlick managed to see the vehicle's license plate. Officers later cited 20-year-old Jacob Nordstrom of Melrose with first-time OWI, underage drinking, and breaking Wisconsin's absolute sobriety law. Police also said a criminal charge of hit-and-run injury is also possible. No criminal counts were listed in the state's online court records as of mid-morning today.
Just over four-thousand electric customers were without power this morning, as thunderstorms kept rumbling through Wisconsin. Xcel Energy reported almost 3,500 customers out in the northwest part of the state. That's after hail struck a four-county area for more than three hours last night. Siren had tennis-ball-sized hail. We Energies had over 550 customers in the dark in the Milwaukee region as of 8 a.m. The Wisconsin Public Service utility had over 150 customers still out, after more than five-thousand customers in central and northeast Wisconsin had outages as of three o'clock. The National Weather Service reported no property damage from last night's storms. More heavy storms are due in late this afternoon and tonight.
Several dozen fast-food workers in Milwaukee fought off raindrops this morning as part of another national call for a higher minimum wage. Similar rallies were planned in Madison, Wausau, and almost 150 other U.S. cities. It's part of a year-and-a-half old national campaign called "Fight for 15." The demonstrators want wages of $15-dollars an hour, plus the right to unionize without being hassled. At a McDonald's in Milwaukee, Mary Coleman told WTMJ-TV it's hard to survive on the current minimum wage of $7.25-an-hour -- and she hopes corporate CEO's will, as she put it, "do the right thing." President Obama made reference to the "Fight for 15" movement on Labor Day, when he spoke in Milwaukee in favor of raising the minimum wage. Opponents point to a federal study showing that a higher minimum could end up eliminating a half-million jobs nationwide.
A Minnesota man could find out this afternoon whether he'll get a new trial for the murders of a La Crosse camera shop owner and his son. Forty-one year old Jeffrey Lepsch of Dakota Minnesota has a two o'clock court hearing on his request for a second trial. His new attorney said three jurors in his original trial were convinced he was guilty before hearing the case -- and attorneys should have caught that when they selecting the jury. The prosecution says all three jurors vowed to base their verdicts solely on the evidence presented in the trial. Lepsch was convicted of killing 56-year-old Paul Petras and his 19-year-old son A.J. at May's Photo in downtown La Crosse on a Saturday afternoon in 2012. Authorities said Lepsch also stole 27 items of camera equipment worth 17-thousand dollars. Circuit Judge Ramona Gonzalez will decide whether Lepsch deserves a new trial. If she doesn't agree, Lepsch can take his case to the state's Fourth District Appellate Court.