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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Tough questions from appeal judges towards state's ban of SSM

CHICAGO - Three federal appeals judges had tough questions and criticisms today for the lawyers who defended the gay marriage bans in Wisconsin and Indiana.  A three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court in Chicago heard arguments on the states' appeals of their same-sex bans, both of which were thrown out by U.S. district judges.

Appellate Judge Richard Posner bristled when Wisconsin Justice attorney Timothy Samuelson pointed to "tradition" in justifying the Badger State's gay marriage ban.  Posner said it was also a tradition not to let blacks marry whites -- and that got "swept away."  Posner called same-sex marriage bans "a tradition of hate and savage discrimination."  The judge pressed Samuelson to explain why the Wisconsin ban exists.  He said it's partly to encourage couples to stay together when they have kids.  Posner said the adopted children of same-sex couples would benefit if their parents could claim state tax breaks and other benefits that married couples receive. The judge ran through a list of psychological strains that kids of same-sex couples get -- including trouble grasping why their parents are not married while their classmates' parents are.  Posner asked Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fischer, "What benefit outweighs that kind of damage to children?" Fischer replied, "Procreation.  Men and women make babies, same-sex couples do not.  We have to have a mechanism to regulate that, and marriage is that mechanism."  The ACLU and Lambda Legal, which sued over the Wisconsin and Indiana gay marriage bans, stated their reasons for what they called the bans' unfairness.  It's not known when the appellate court will rule.


Before she died, Kacee Tollefsbol managed to call 911 and report that her brother-in-law had just shot her.  A Fitchburg police affidavit released today shows that Tollefsbol was shot in the back -- and before she died at a hospital, she told a detective that her brother-in-law Andy Steele fired the gun.  Ashlee Steele -- Andy's wife and Tollefsbol's sister -- died at her home last Friday.  Andy Steele, who learned in June that he had ALS, reportedly tried to take his own life.  He was getting treatment at an undisclosed location at last word.  Steele, a former Dane County sheriff's deputy, was arrested for the killings of the two women.  Charges are pending.  The victims were both originally from Stillwater where they'll be buried on Friday.  


A man from Superior is challenging his conviction for selling synthetic drugs at a store in nearby Duluth.  Fifty-seven year old James Carlson has filed a notice asking the federal appeals court in Minneapolis to review his conviction, which recently netted him a 17-year prison sentence.  His new appellate attorney, Mark Nyvold, says he's still deciding what he'll emphasize as the basis for the appeal.  Carlson was convicted on 51 federal charges of selling millions of dollars worth of synthetic drugs from The Last Place on Earth, his former head-shop in downtown Duluth.  Authorities shut down the store last summer, after Carlson was given repeated warnings that what he was selling was illegal.  He said he was selectively punished, and many other head-shops keep running with no hassle.  Prosecutors said Carlson should know what the laws are against selling synthetic drugs.  His ex-girlfriend, Lava Haugen, was given five years in prison for her role. 


A judge in Eau Claire refused to let a 60-year-old man have a chance to go free on bond, for allegedly killing his wife.  Thomas Biestervield made an initial appearance today in Eau Claire County Circuit Court, on a charge of first-degree intentional homicide.  Authorities said he shot his wife Lois in the back, after they argued and she threatened to leave him.  Officials said he then fled the scene and drove around until a police officer found him in Bloomer in Chippewa County.  That reportedly led to a chase which ended at Biestervield's home.


Dodge County authorities are investigating the death of a 43-year-old man as a homicide.  The body of Michael Soeller was found Sunday at his home on Highway 73 near Fox Lake.  Sheriff's deputies said Soeller's landlord found the body, after he had not seen the man for several days.  An autopsy yesterday showed that the victim died from a blood loss due to injuries from an assailant.  Sheriff's investigators say it does not appear to be a random act of violence.  A woman has been identified as a person of interest that deputies want for questioning.  The sheriff's department released a facial sketch of the woman today, along with a Walmart security camera photo showing her looking down at her cellphone. 


A Sheboygan woman is accused of selling heroin to her mother, who reportedly almost died from an overdose.  Twenty-three year old Abbey Miller appeared in Sheboygan County Circuit Court yesterday on felony charges of delivering heroin and second-degree reckless endangerment.  She was sent to jail on a two-thousand-dollar cash bond.  She's due back in court next Wednesday, when a judge will decide if there's enough evidence to order a trial.  Authorities said the defendant's brother told police about his mother's heroin overdose in July.  The mother told officers that she paid her daughter $50 for the drug.  Miller denies giving the heroin to her.


A northwest Wisconsin man will spend a year in prison for helping bury a homicide victim.  Fifty-year-old Timothy Zamsky of Holcombe must also spend three years under extended supervision when he's no longer behind bars.  He was one of three people charged in Rusk County with hiding the body of 52-year-old Frederick "Brian" Harvey.  Authorities said Harvey was strangled in his mobile home in August of 2012 in a dispute over money.  His lawyer said Zamsky was manipulated by the man who killed Harvey, Larry Fernandez. Zamsky apologized during his sentencing hearing yesterday. 


Former Rusk County Board member James Edming had his Election Night victory confirmed today for a state Assembly contest in northwest Wisconsin.   Edming led Michael Bub by 17 votes in the original tally for a four-way Republican primary for the Assembly post given up by Medford Republican Mary Williams.  Edming increased his lead to 19 votes, after he gained two in the recount.  Bub lost one vote, and the other two GOP candidates did not have their vote totals change from August 12th.  Around five-thousand total votes were cast.  Barring a court challenge, Edming will run against Democrat Richard Pulcher in November for the Assembly post. 


Wisconsin's largest airport has gotten steadily busier since January.  Passenger traffic at Milwaukee's Mitchell International rose by three-point-three percent in July, compared to the same month a year ago.  That's the sixth straight month of gains at Mitchell, where 611-thousand people flew in-and-out last month.  For the year as a whole, Mitchell's total passenger traffic is up two-point-seven percent from the first seven months of 2013.  Milwaukee now offers non-stop flights to 36 cities around the U.S.  One-hundred-60 other destinations can be reached with only one connecting flight.


New businesses are finding that Wisconsin's crowd-funding program is not attracting much of a crowd.  Both houses unanimously voted almost a year ago to relax certain state laws on stock sales, to investors can put up capital on sites like "Kick-starter."  But Wisconsin is the only state among 12 with crowd-funding that requires state-chartered banks to be the ones holding the donations.  That puts the federally-chartered giants like BMO Harris and Chase out of the game -- and as result, prospective new companies are having trouble meeting the state's conditions.  When lawmakers were considering it, supporters hailed crowd-funding as a way to provide donated capital in place of more traditional funding like loans and venture capital.  President Obama has signed similar legislation on the national level -- but the Securities-and-Exchange Commission has been slow to develop rules for the national program, amid concerns about possible fraud.  If those bugs get worked out, the federal crowd-funding law could super-cede the state one.  In the meantime, one of the chief sponsors of the Wisconsin law -- state Assembly Republican David Craig of Big Bend -- tells the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel he'd be open to amending it to allow federally-chartered banks to be involved.  ____________________

If you have the money, you can buy Wisconsin's most notorious outdoor music theater.  Alpine Valley near East Troy is up for sale, with an asking price of eight-point-four million dollars.  The Zilber Property Group has owned the nearly 200-acre venue for 20 years.  The firm says it now wants to focus on its main businesses -- home, office, and industrial development.  Alpine Valley is the nation's second-largest amphitheater, with 37-thousand seats in Walworth County's rolling hills.  It was built in 1977.  The Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead, Pearl Jam, and other rock legends have played there.  Guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan and four others died there in a helicopter crash after a show in 1990.  The concert promoting firm of Live Nation Worldwide leases Alpine Valley, and the arrangement has five years remaining.  The Milwaukee Business Journal says Live Nation has a minimum rent of $675,000 a year.