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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Judge and prosecutor sued in John Doe case

A judge and a prosecutor have been sued for a third time in connection with a John Doe investigation into alleged campaign finance violations during the state recall elections.  

Attorneys for three undisclosed plaintiffs have asked the State Supreme Court to directly consider their case, without lower courts reviewing it first.  Details of the latest suit have not been disclosed.  It was put under wraps when it was filed a week ago.  An original lawsuit to halt the John Doe probe targeted five people in the separate counties where they live.  Five lawsuits were also filed in this matter, but online court records give them the same case number -- which apparently means they were consolidated.  That's not certain, either, since the court's decision in the matter was also sealed.  A state appellate court recently ruled that the John Doe can proceed, despite efforts to end it.  On Monday, the Wisconsin Club for Growth also filed suit, asking that the John Doe be halted. Special prosecutor Francis Schmitz and the Doe's presiding judge, Gregory Peterson, are defendants for a third time in the case.  


A woman accused of kidnapping her half-sister's baby near Beloit agreed today to be extradited to Texas to face an unrelated charge of tampering with public records.  31-year-old Kristen Smith waived her right to challenge her extradition.  It's not clear what the order means, since U-S Marshals can arrest her and take her to Madison at any time.  Smith was charged in federal court in Madison last week with kidnapping, pending a grand jury review.  Smith allegedly took young Kayden Powell on February sixth, and left him behind a gas station close to where police stopped her in Iowa to be questioned in the baby's disappearance.  The child was found safe a day later.  Today, her attorney said Smith wanted to express concern for her half-sister -- 18-year-old Brianna Marshall, the baby's mother.  Smith said she hoped that Marshall was recovering from the family's ordeal.


Wisconsinites can fly out East again, in the wake of a massive snow-and-ice storm in the southern and northeast parts of the country.  Most flights to the regions on Wednesday and Thursday were called off at Milwaukee's Mitchell International Airport.  Today, officials said only two out-bound flights from Milwaukee were canceled to the East Coast and South.  A heavy snowstorm hit the Southern U.S. on Wednesday, before moving up the coast.  New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Charlotte were among the places with large numbers of flights canceled.  Around here, folks in the northern two-thirds of Wisconsin had anywhere from one to six-and-a-half inches of snow yesterday.  It's sunny-and-dry today, but forecasters expect more snow tomorrow -- perhaps 1-to-3 inches in southern Wisconsin.


The U.S. State Department denies reports that it will not extend a visa this month for a foreign exchange student at UW-Superior who's in a coma from a traffic crash.  At a news briefing in Washington, spokeswoman Marie Harf said the government is working with Muhammad Shahzaib Bajwa's family, as well as the hospital in Duluth where he's a patient, and his home country of Pakistan.  Bajwa was injured last November, while he and three friends were returning to Superior from Minneapolis.   Harf said the family must consider a number of treatment options for the 20-year-old Bajwa.  She said the State Department is quote, "making every effort to offer as much flexibility as possible in maintaining his status."  His visa expires February 28th.  Bajwa's older brother Shahraiz said the family wants him to stay in the U.S. to get his medical care -- and they're more hopeful than ever that it will happen.  One problem is Bajwa's hospital bills.  They've grown to $350,000, while his insurance only covers $100,000.  A crowd-funding site called has raised another $55,000.


Three finalists have been recommended to President Obama to fill a vacant federal judgeship for the eastern half of Wisconsin.  Milwaukee law firm partner Beth Kushner, chief district bankruptcy Judge Pamela Pepper, and Milwaukee County Circuit Judge William Pocan were recommended to fill the U.S. District judgeship vacated by Milwaukee's Charles Clevert.  Wisconsin's two U.S. senators submitted the nominees to Obama.  Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison) and Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh) arranged for a state bi-partisan nominating commission to evaluate and endorse candidates for the judicial opening.  The next step is for Obama to name a nominee for full U.S. Senate confirmation.  Baldwin said the selection process is quote, "an important step forward in providing Wisconsin with highly-qualified public servants."  Last year, the commission endorsed finalists for a vacant federal judgeship in Madison.  Obama nominated attorney James Peterson, who was later endorsed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.  That appointment is pending in the full Senate.


Charges will be considered next week against a northwest Wisconsin sheriff's deputy suspected of domestic abuse.  Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said the man's fellow deputies were called to his home near Cameron around eight last night -- and they found evidence of domestic abuse.  A statement from the sheriff did not provide other details.  Investigators from neighboring Rusk County were called in to check out the incident.  The deputy is 31, and he was being held in the Rusk County Jail in Ladysmith at last word.  Barron County prosecutors will be asked to consider charges of disorderly conduct-domestic abuse, false imprisonment, and criminal damage to property.  


It's not as easy as sounds to set up a drop-box where folks can get rid of their old prescription drugs.  Members of the La Crosse County Heroin Task Force thought it was a great idea.  That's because prescription drug abuse can often lead to heroin abuse.  However, the group learned that current laws make it very difficult to set up drop boxes -- even if they're in secure locations.  Also, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is expected to put out new rules next month to discourage drop-off locations.  Task force members said unused prescribed medications cannot just be thrown in the garbage, because they might be found and used.  Pharmacist Loren Carrell told the group that a good way to destroy the pills is to put them in a laundry container, add bleach, then throw the entire container away.  That way, he said there would be not be "pharmaceutical integrity" left for those pills.  


A Newfoundland dog from northwest Wisconsin was named the best in its breed this week at the Westminster Dog Show in New York.  Four-year-old Jordan is owned by Wayne and Kathy Griffin of rural Chippewa Falls.  Kathy said she could not attend the show, because she was too busy dealing with a litter of puppies -- so they arranged a professional handler to display the dog before the judges.  After winning the breed award, Jordan was entered into a working-dog category against dozens of other breed winners.  She eventually lost to a black Portugese water dog named Matisse.  Kathy Griffin has been raising Newfoundland dogs for the last 34 years.  Jordan will stay with her handler for now, while competing in other shows.  Wayne Griffin says she'll probably be entered in contests for about another year -- and then she'll return home and be one of the family pets.  


Part of the downtown main street in Ripon was finally re-opened this afternoon, more than two months after a fire destroyed two buildings and damaged a third structure.  City Administrator Lori Rich tells WLUK-TV in Green Bay that the delay was caused by an insurance company's dragged-out investigation into the blaze.  Also, she said the buildings' owner -- Boca Grande Capital -- withdrew from an agreement to brace the structures, so the street can re-open before the buildings are taken down.  The city did the work at a cost of $8,300, and it plans to bill the capital firm.  Authorities have not said what started the blaze, which occurred on December 11th.


UW students and staff members can get seed money to start up their own businesses.  The university and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation have created a two-million-dollar fund.  It's designed to help students and faculty members turn their entrepreneurial ideas into commercial realities.  Grant applications will be taken in March, May, and November.  A five-member committee will decide who gets funded -- and the first grants will be awarded in April.  Recipients will get up to $75,000 -- $25,000 to test the marketability of a business idea and $50,000 for creating a business model.  The UW Extension service will administer the fund.  The university's new president, Ray Cross, says that if an idea fails, variations of the same idea can still be successful. 


If you find a stray cat in Wausau, don't ask the police to pick it up.  Officers no longer have a place to put the animals, after the city turned down a contract with the Marathon County Humane Society.  It would have cost the city $80,000 this year -- although a county grant would have dropped the price to $62,000.  The county used to pick up the tab to care for stray cats, but it cut off the funding at the start of the year.  The cost was passed down to local governments, and only one of them has reached a contract with the Humane Society to house the strays.  A Wausau ordinance requires any pets without rabies vaccination tags to be impounded and care for -- but police are not enforcing it without a city contract with the Humane Society.  Mayor Jim Tipple says a solution must be found.  The city is looking for another group to provide funding and care for the stray cats.