WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Judge from Eau Claire named to head up new investigation of state recall elections
EAU CLAIRE - A reserve judge from Eau Claire has been named the new presiding judge in a John Doe probe reportedly connected to campaign funding for the state's recall elections.
Former circuit-and-appellate judge Gregory Peterson confirmed to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he replaced retired Kenosha judge Barbara Kluka in the secret investigation. He refused to say anything else. Kluka withdrew, but it's not known why. A John Doe allows prosecutors to gather evidence secretly by calling witnesses and issuing subpoenas for exhibits. The Journal Sentinel says the problem is exploring whether conservative groups illegally coordinated with GOP candidates in the recall efforts against state senators and Governor Scott Walker in 2011-and-'12. An editorial in the Wall Street Journal last week said two John Doe subpoenas demanded communication records with 29 conservative groups -- including the Walker re-election campaign, the Republican Governors Association, and the state's largest business group. Republicans have told the Journal Sentinel the probe seems to be a fishing expedition, because no Democrats appear to be targeted.
A La Crosse County man convicted of killing his parents for their money has asked for a new trial. 44-year-old Eric Koula is serving two life prison sentences for the shooting deaths of Dennis and Merna Koula at their home in the town of Barre in May of 2010. Eric's new lawyers claim that the judge in his trial disallowed some evidence improperly -- and jurors were given instructions that were prejudiced against him. The public defender's office filed Koula's latest request with the La Crosse County Circuit Court just before yesterday's deadline to file for post-conviction relief. If either side takes issue with the court's new ruling, they can take it to the state's court of appeals. Prosecutors said Koula was deep in debt, and he didn't have much success with computer stock trading -- and that's what drove him to kill his parents for their inheritance. Koula admitted planting false evidence to throw investigators off, but he continually denied killing his parents. At his sentencing, Koula said quote, "The person who did this is still out there."
Four criminal charges have been filed against a Milwaukee man who was shot-and-wounded by police officers in neo-natal ward at Children's Hospital. 22-year-old Ashanti Hendricks was charged yesterday with resisting an officer, illegal gun possession as a convicted felon, and two counts of bail jumping. All are felonies except for the resisting charge. According to a new criminal complaint, Hendricks was wanted because he skipped out of a sentencing hearing two weeks ago on a gun charge. Police learned he was at Children's Hospital to see his baby last Thursday -- and after they confronted him, prosecutors said he eluded officers three times during a chase around the hospital's seventh floor. He was shot twice in the arm, after reportedly displaying a weapon. Officials said Hendricks tried running away after he was handcuffed, but he settled down after an officer pointed a shotgun at him. Online court records did not list the new charges this morning. They did show that Hendricks is due in court this morning on three previous charges of eluding police while driving -- plus illegal possession of a firearm and marijuana.
A former firefighter from northeast Wisconsin has been given a total of 19 years in prison, for starting a half-dozen blazes since 2009. 29-year-old Drew Christenson was given four additional years yesterday, on the top of the 10-year federal sentence and five-year state term he got last week. A judge in Oconto County gave Christensen terms of 17-and-19 years for burning down a mobile home and a garage -- but they were made concurrent to each other, and concurrent to the other two sentences. Christensen must also spend a total of 14 years under extended supervision once he gets out. Besides the garage and mobile home, Christensen burned down the Klondike Community Church in Oconto County, two taverns, and the home of a woman who wanted to collect insurance money from the arson. Jessica Miller will be sentenced in January for that crime, along with another man. Christensen used to be a firefighter in Brazeau. He has blamed his arsons on pent-up aggression after he broke up with his fiancée, and his brother died in a traffic crash five years ago.
A Wisconsin man will spend 29 months in a Michigan prison, for spitting into a snack-wrap and serving it to a police officer while working at McDonald's. 24-year-old Dalton Ursulean of Niagara struck a deal with prosecutors, in which he pleaded no contest to a felony charge of placing harmful objects in food. During yesterday's sentencing, it was disclosed that Ursulean had tested positive for Hepatitis-"C," -- and a VA officer who received the snack wrap did not get the disease after eating the infected meal last August. As part of the plea bargain, the prosecution asked that Ursulean serve his time in a county jail instead of a full-fledged state prison. The defense attorney wanted Ursulean go free, after spending 347 days in jail while his case was winding through the courts. District Judge Mary Barglind of Iron Mountain said the defendant needs prison time. She said his previous convictions -- three felonies and six misdemeanors -- showed he could not be rehabilitated in a county lock-up. Ursulean apologized, saying he wants to quote, "actually do right."
Police now say a UW-Stevens Point student who died over the weekend may have overdosed on drugs -- but they won't know for sure for at least a couple more weeks. Toxicology test results are pending for 22-year-old Jordan Peterson, a senior biology major from Markesan. He died over the weekend at his house near the Stevens Point campus. His roommate found Peterson's body late Sunday, after he returned from a weekend away.
A pedestrian killed by a semi-truck near Abbotsford over the weekend has been identified as 29-year-old Brandon Sargent of Sheboygan. Marathon County sheriff's deputies said Sargent was walking eastbound on the Highway 29 expressway near Highway 13 when he was struck around four a-m Saturday. He died at a Marshfield hospital later the same day. The trucker has not been cited. Sheriff's officials say they're still trying to determine what caused the mishap.
The death of a woman in Milwaukee is being investigated as a homicide. The county medical examiner's office said it was notified of a shooting death around nine last night on the city's south side. Other details were not immediately released.
A man killed in a two-vehicle crash on Highway 29 in Brown County was identified today as 22-year-old Shane Lambert of Green Bay. Authorities continue to investigate the crash, which occurred yesterday on Highway 29 in Hobart west of Green Bay. Officials said a westbound vehicle in which Lambert was a passenger crossed a median ditch on the four-lane expressway, and collided head-on with an oncoming vehicle. The driver of the westbound car was seriously injured. The other driver escaped with minor injuries. Authorities said speed and alcohol appeared to be factors in the mishap.
It might be a while before the Wisconsin corn harvest is finished. As of Sunday, only 74-percent of the state's corn-for-grain has been brought in. That's 12-percent more than a week ago, but still five-percent behind the average for the past five years. Many crop reporters say that some corn is still too wet to harvest -- and those farmers might have to wait for the ground to freeze to complete the job. The soybean harvest is doing better. Ninety-three percent of the Wisconsin beans are in. However, that's still five-percent below the average for the past five years.
It was not a tornado that caused heavy storm damage in Dodge and Washington counties on Sunday. The National Weather Service inspected the area yesterday, and found evidence of straight-line winds with bursts of over 100-miles-an-hour. Officials said most of the wind was in the same direction, with little evidence of the swirling that was seen in tornadoes that went through the Midwest to the south of Wisconsin. In Hustisford, winds up to 100-miles-an-hour caused an equipment building to be destroyed. Part of a roof was blown off in Allenton, and a silo collapsed on a barn near Boltonville where 12 cattle were killed. About 80 trees were damaged in all -- including up to 50 trees on a mile-long path. Weather Service inspectors continue to look at tree damage in Racine, Kenosha, and Walworth counties to determine if tornadoes landed there. The heaviest storms were in central-and-southern Illinois, where six people were killed. Michigan also had a pair of storm-related deaths.
The cost of a traditional Thanksgiving feast has seen a slight decrease from the previous year. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual price survey, the average cost for a traditional dinner for ten people is down 44-cents to $49.04. A traditional Thanksgiving dinner includes the turkey, dressing, sweet potato, rolls, vegetables and pumpkin pie with whip cream. Research Director Dave Miller says a big part of the decrease is because of turkey costs. With an increase in turkey production this year, there’s a decrease in price. While turkey prices are down, the largest increase may surprise you: According to the survey, three-pounds of sweet potatoes saw a 21-cent increase from a year ago.
Voters will elect two new members to the Wisconsin State Assembly today, as well as finalists for a third seat. General elections are being in the 69th Assembly District in the Marshfield area, and the 21st District in the south Milwaukee suburbs. Three candidates hope to replace Republican Majority Leader Scott Suder of Abbotsford, who resigned in early September and wound up taking a lobbying post. Businessman Bob Kulp of Stratford won a four-way GOP primary a month ago. Now, he's facing Democrat Ken Slezak of Neillsville, and independent Tim Swiggum -- a former Democrat and ex-mayor of Owen. In the Milwaukee area, Republican school choice advocate Jessie Rodriguez will face Democratic United Way fund-raiser Elizabeth Coppola. Rodriguez won a five-way primary in October. Today's winner replaces Republican Mark Honadel of South Milwaukee, who quit two months ago to return to the private sector. Also today, a GOP primary is being held for the 82nd District Assembly seat vacated by suburban Milwaukee Republican Jeff Stone. The four candidates are attorneys Stephanie Myers of Greendale and Steven Becker of Franklin -- Franklin Alderman Ken Skowronski -- and Shari Hanneman, who co-founded the Citizens for a Safe Wisconsin. That winner will face Democrat John Hermes in a general election on December 17th. No matter what happens today, it will hardly put a dent in the Assembly's Republican majority, which is now 57-39.
State Senator John Lehman of Racine today became the first Democrat to run for lieutenant governor next November. The 68-year-old Lehman had faced a tough re-election battle in a Senate district that became more Republican as the result of the GOP's redistricting maps in 2011. Lehman lost his Senate seat in 2010 to Republican Van Wanggaard -- but he won it back almost a year-and-a-half ago, when Wanggaard was recalled by voters in an election under the old district boundaries set a decade before. In Wisconsin, voters nominate party finalists separately for governor and lieutenant governor -- and the two primary winners then form a ticket for the November contest. So far, former Trek Bicycle executive Mary Burke is the only announced Democratic candidate for governor. There's been no indication that any Republicans would challenge GOP incumbent Rebecca Kleefisch -- and that she would stay on as Scott Walker's running mate.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says the 2016 Republican presidential ticket should have no ties to Washington. National reporters have been interviewing the GOP governor in advance of tomorrow's release of Walker's book "Unintimidated." Walker told ABC News that the next GOP nominees for both president and vice president should be present-or-former state governors. He calls them "people who've done successful things in their states, who've taken on big reforms." Walker also said most Americans have quote, "had it with almost everybody in Washington in either party." He says voters want outsiders to come in and quote, "shake things up." ABC's Jonathan Karl asked Walker if he'd leave Janesville House Republican Paul Ryan out of the mix. The governor answered, "Yeah, and I love Paul Ryan ... If he had a fan club, I'd be the president of that." Walker also reiterated that he will not commit to serving a full second term if he's re-elected governor next November. Walker said it's his "calling" to be governor right now but quote, "I don't rule anything out." USA Today asked Walker if he thinks both he and Ryan would run in the 2016 White House primary. Walker said it's an interesting question, and he's not sure what the future will bring.
Wisconsin political leaders are scratching their heads over a recent Marquette Law School poll showing that half the state's voters support a full legalization of marijuana. Gary Storck of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws recently touted the statewide poll, which asked registered voters in late October about an array of political subjects. Just under 50-percent said they supported pot legalization. Forty-five percent said no, and five-percent were not sure. Wisconsin Democrats have been trying for years to approve marijuana for medicinal purposes, but there's been no real public talk about seeking full legalization. State Assembly Democrat Chris Taylor of Madison is one of the main sponsors of the current medical marijuana bill. She tells the Capital Times she's uncertain about full legalization -- and she believes there are both pros-and-cons. Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Mary Burke said she doesn't believe Wisconsinites support a full legalization of marijuana -- but she could support the limited medicinal use. If anything, majority Republicans favor more restrictions. No Republican is co-sponsoring the medicinal marijuana bill. Earlier this year, the Senate passed a bill to let local governments prosecute those caught with small amounts of pot, even when county DA's drop charges.
Governor Scott Walker has named a new state budget director. Michael Heifetz, a former lobbyist and political analyst, will lead the Division of Executive Budget and Finance. He replaces Brian Hayes, who took over as administrator for the Wisconsin Division of Hearings and Appeals in October. Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch says Heifetz is an experienced leader who will help develop a budget to move Wisconsin forward.
Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has announced a multi-state settlement has been reached with Google. Wisconsin, along with 37 other states and the District of Columbia, sued Google for allegedly altering a tracking code to get around privacy settings on Apple’s Safari web browser. The practice was under scrutiny until Google stopped it in 2012. Wisconsin will receive about 336-thousand dollars from the settlement. Van Hollen says the settlement will show that misrepresenting tracking is not acceptable and people are entitled to accurate information about the privacy of their web surfing.
A new report says child care centers in the Wisconsin Shares program have been shortchanged in their state reimbursements -- but the state says that's no longer always the case. Centers get reimbursed from the state for providing child care for low-income workers. The Wisconsin Council on Children-and-Families says those reimbursements cover only 77-percent of the actual cost of caring for the youngsters -- and that includes co-payments from parents. The Council said reimbursement rates have been frozen for seven years, but state officials say their new budget lifted that freeze. A spokesman for the state Department of Children-and-Families said certain providers in 18 counties have seen their reimbursement rates go up, since the new state budget took effect in July.
Starting in January, about 75 refugees will be re-settled from international battle zones to the much more peaceful Fox Valley. The non-profit group World Relief Fox Valley is helping obtain health screenings, housing, and integration assistance for refugees from the Congo, Myanmar, and Iraq. The group also plans to help the refugees find jobs which match their skills. Kathy Flores, Appleton's diversity coordinator, tells the Appleton Post-Crescent that her office will work with churches and other religious institutions to prepare for the refugees' arrival. The first refugees are expected to arrive in January. The resettlement effort is in its third year. So far, almost 175 people have participated, mostly Burmese refugees.
For the first time in over two years, Wisconsin Realtors did not sell more houses in October than they did the year before. The Realtors Association said today its members sold 5,647 homes last month, five fewer than in October of 2012. That marks the first time since July of 2011 that year-to-year sales of existing homes did not increase. The median sales price kept rising, though. The typical house went for 142-thousand-500-dollars last month, five-point-six percent more than the year before. Also, Realtor home sales remain 12-point-four percent higher for the first 10 months of 2013, totaling just over 60,000 houses. Realtors Association chairman Steve Lane says the numbers are somewhat surprising, but not totally unexpected. He said both this year and last year represented very strong, very healthy housing markets.
For the third year in a row, Wisconsin tourism is working to make thousands of needy people a little warmer outside this winter. State Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett has unveiled the "Big Bundle-Up" campaign. Folks can donate new or gently-used hats, scarfs, mittens, and boots. You might wonder why tourist agencies are involved in this. It's because a large private tourist outfit in Lower Michigan got into a media battle with Wisconsin three years ago, over which place looked more like a mitten. They eventually turned their good-natured badgering into a charitable campaign which started with mitten donations and expanded from there. Last year, Wisconsin donated 17-thousand winter items to charities in all 72 counties. Klett says tourism is all about customer service, so it's only natural that it be involved in a campaign like this. People can donate winter apparel to about 70 locations at state Welcome Centers, tourist information offices, businesses, and other facilities through January third. You'll find a list at Travel Wisconsin.com.
State wildlife officials are urging hunters to have their deer tested for chronic wasting disease. The Janesville Gazette says there are signs that the fatal deer brain disease is on the rise. The DNR hopes to have at least 500 deer tested in the Rock County area, as part of a statewide effort to get a new handle on CWD. Apparently, hunters are showing the same concerns. A shop that registers deer has not had a single person turn down a test for chronic wasting disease. The bow-and-deer season has been going on for a month-and-a-half, but the big deer numbers come during the traditional nine-day gun season which begins on Saturday.
Eight baby Wisconsin whooping cranes are well on their way to Florida, as part of the 13th annual migration effort to re-introduce the endangered bird in the Eastern U.S. The group left a wildlife area in Green Lake County on October second. They're being guided by ultra-light pilot from the Operation Migration program. Meanwhile, eight other baby cranes that were destined for Florida have not veered far from a separate departure point at the Horicon Marsh at last word. The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership said one of the Horicon babies died recently -- and the rest of the birds were still in the region as of late last week. Those cranes were supposed to be guided by older cranes that have made the trip to Florida in the past. Meanwhile, the Operation Migration group is about to go through Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia before reaching its winter destination at the Saint Mark's National Wildlife Refuge on Florida's Gulf Coast. The partnership says the migration project has resulted in 110 cranes living in the wild. About 600 total cranes exist today, almost 450 in the wild.
The State Capitol Christmas tree was on its way to Madison this morning. Jim Draeger of Antigo provided the balsam fir -- and he and his crew were driving it for 175 miles to Madison. It will be stored just outside the Capitol until December second, when it will be brought inside and decorated. Wisconsin youngsters normally provide ornaments for the Capitol tree. They can still submit them until Friday. They must reflect the theme of the tree. This year's theme is "Wisconsin Traditions."