Thursday, October 27, 2005

With Miers' Departure, Sykes Again Hears Supreme Court Whispers

With Harriet Miers withdrawing her nomination this morning, former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Diane Sykes is reportedly back on the shortlist of nominees for the nation's highest bench.

See a wire story mentioning her as one of five possible female candidates.

One of her former colleagues on the state Supreme Court thinks she'd be a great choice.

"I've always thought Diane Sykes would be a very intelligent choice for Bush," said former Justice Bill Bablitch. He was effusive in his praise. "She's highly intelligent, she's very collegial, she's young enough to have a long term impact on the court, she's basically conservative, she's a soccer mom, she's got real world experience, and she went through the Senate fairly easily just a year ago," he said, the last point referring to her confirmation to the 7th District U.S. Court of Appeals.

Sykes should be able to pass the litmus tests that some think tripped up Miers with the right wing of the Republican Party, he said. "On the question of Roe v. Wade, I don't know that Diane has ever taken a position on any of that stuff, which could well be in her favor if conservatives see some of the other things in her background, such as her membership in the Federalist Society, to convince them that she's a true blue conservative."

Sykes also has a major booster in U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner. In fact, the Menomonee Falls Republican called White House counsel Harriet Miers to extol Sykes' virtues on Friday, Sept. 30. But then on Monday, Oct. 3, Miers was announced as the nominee.

"I know he finds Judge Sykes to be extremely well qualified, she is very highly regarded in the legal community, she has a keen legal intellect, just really thought she has the qualifications and characteristics you look for in a Supreme Court justice," said a Sensenbrenner aide today.

Sykes did not return a call to her office today.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Feiss Says Burnett 'Instrumental' in Case Against Chvala

The prosecutor in the case against Sen. Chuck Chvala, Milwaukee County Asst. District Attorney David Feiss, said the testimony of Doug Burnett, a former Chvala aide, was "instrumental" in the closure of the case against the former Senate majority leader.

"He was extremely cooperative and it's difficult to believe the case would have progressed the way it did without Mr. Burnett," Feiss said. "He was incredibly forthright and accepting of responsibility for what he had done."

Burnett pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a misdemeanor and has been sentenced to 50 hours of community service.

Feiss also said former Sen. Brian Burke did come in for an interview voluntarily, but the testimony was not filed as evidence in the chase against Chvala. He said it may be filed in Burke's case and considered by Dane County Judge Bill Foust, who is presiding over that case.

Restitution was not part of the plea agreement in the Chvala case, and Feiss would not comment on what may be ordered. "The judge has raised that as an issue, and if he asks questions at sentencing we will be prepared to answer those questions," he said.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Watch the Web Cast of Chvala's Hearing


See a Web cast of today's plea hearing in the case against former Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala.


--You must have a high-speed line and use a Microsoft browser
--Click on the chosen link above.
--Wait until it loads and then adjust volume on your speakers and on the + - scale below the screen on the left.
--Watch and listen, or minimize the screen, listen and do other computer work.


Chvala Pleads to Two Felonies

Former Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala was found guilty this morning in Dane County Court in Madison of two felonies in accordance with a plea agreement entered before Dane County Judge David Flanagan. Chvala pleaded guilty to misconduct in office by instructing state workers to raise campaign money on state time and to making a campaign contribution of more than $1,000 in violation of state campaign laws.

The state's sentencing recommendation is for a six-month jail sentence, two years probation and a fine not to exceed $5,500.

Sentencing will take place in early December.

Chvala had been facing 19 felony charges, including misconduct in office, extortion and filing false reports with the state Elections Board. His trial was scheduled to start this coming Monday, Oct. 31.

Early Coverage of Burke and Chvala Cases

See WisPolitics coverage from 2002, when charges against Chvala and Burke were first announced:


Monday, October 24, 2005

Sources Say Chvala Plea Could Include Two Felonies

Prosecutors and defense attorneys could not be reached today to comment on a tentative plea deal reached in the case against former Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala. Calls to the offices of prosecuting attorney David Feiss and defense attorney James Olson were not returned by deadline.

With a plea hearing scheduled for 11 a.m. tomorrow in Courtroom 2D before Dane County Judge David Flanagan, political sources speculated on the nature of the tentative deal between Chvala and prosecutors.

Without the principles commenting, several sources speculated the Burke plea deal "set the floor,'' in other words, Chvala's deal would have to penalize him more.

Sources speculated the tentative plea was similar to Burke's in terms of jail time but with guilty pleas to two felonies instead of one. While that may seem lenient to some, one source said: "Chvala didn't put anything into his pocket; Burke did.''

Another source with ties to the legal community called the deal "plausible'' and said two felonies would be enough for Chvala to lose his law license. Chvala is facing 19 felony charges, including misconduct in office, extortion and filing false reports with the state Elections Board.

There was no confirmation of the plea coming before the judge tomorrow.

Chvala had been portrayed as the fighter who would take his case to trial, but sources note that Chvala also is the consummate deal-maker and probably was using a tried-and-true budget technique -- holding out as long as possible in the hopes of the best deal. And they hinted that discussions had been taking place last week.


McCabe Hopes Chvala's Sentence 'More Severe' Than Burke's

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign executive director Mike McCabe said even if Chvala is sentenced to multiple felonies and ordered to serve a year in jail, it still would not be sufficient punishment in his eyes.

"I think that Chvala's punishment should be more severe (than Burke's)," McCabe said, indicating that Burke was not charged with extortion, while Chvala was.

"As political corruption charges go, extortion is right there at the top of the list...extortion is a high-octane charge," said McCabe.

He said he wouldn't be surprised if the plea agreement recommended a year of jailtime or less for Chvala, but noted that it is not a foregone conclusion that Flanagan would accept the sentencing. He added that whatever happens, he expects the charge of misconduct in office - the offense that tied together all of the major players in the caucus scandal - to stick.

"I don't think that will be lost on any prosecutor," said McCabe. "If they come to a plea agreement, they will be thinking of the other cases pending against other legislators and what they face."

Common Cause's Jay Heck said many expected Chvala to fight the charges during trial.

"I think there was some expectation Chuck would go down with flags flying and take a lot of people with him," Heck said.

Heck wondered if maybe Chvala's decision to admit to Flanagan his involvement in the operation of Independent Citizens for Democracy was background for the agreeement. "That he admitted his involvement might be one of the bases for it," Heck said.

Heck said he's expecting Chvala's sentencing recommendation to be at least as steep as the six month jail sentence Burke's facing in his case. "But then, it's a different prosecutor and different judge, so we'll see."

Heck thinks the prosecutors are getting the job done, despite the ex-pols not receiving nearly the amount of time behind bars they could have. "They're admitting their guilt," said Heck. "Three years ago there was a lot of talk that none of these guys would ever get convicted of anything."

Chvala Plea Hearing Set for 11 a.m. Tuesday

According to the office of Dane County Circuit Court Judge David Flanagan, a plea hearing has been scheduled for 11 a.m. tomorrow regarding the trial of former Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Chvala Prosecution Said to Focus on Use Of State-Owned Equipment

With the trial of former Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala teed up for an Oct. 31 start, the prosecution is readying their case by interviewing witnesses, having them go over statements made more than two years ago and asking them to identify any parts they may now disagree with.

A witness prepped for the case by the Milwaukee office of DA E. Michael McCann says the case centers on the use of state-owned equipment.

"They're focusing more on resources now than the time," said the potential witness. "Time is a lot harder (to prove). You run into a lot of gray area," said the source, citing the use of compensatory, sick and vacation time.

"In the beginning, they cast a wide net, and now they're sorting through information to see what witness they want to use which way to make what point."

The source said the prosecution seems to be building a strong argument, that the attorneys seemed to know the information before questions are even answered.

"I think they probably have enough," said the witness. "Everybody that used to work in the caucus would have to acknowledge they did campaign work while at the office."

The witness characterized the campaign work as being understood by the employees as part of the job, and that it was generally known that it was against the rules.

"I just think that everyone understood, at least I certainly did," said the witness. "I had a cell phone and used it a lot to make campaign calls. There was an understanding it should not have been done on state time."

Despite that, the work was not discouraged, but even encouraged as the work piled up. "It deteriorated to a point where the demands of the job made it impossible not to do campaign work on state time. It was like, 'You're hired to do a job and this is part of the job.'"

Still, the prosecution will be dealing with reluctant witnesses.

"Nobody that's a witness in this case is a willing participant," said the source. "But it was either sign the immunity agreement (and testify) or face looming prosecution."

Chvala appeared in court Monday with attorneys James Olson and Bruce Davey for a pretrial hearing in front of Dane Co. Circuit Court Judge David Flanagan. Milwaukee Co. Assistant DA David Feiss is prosecuting the case. The potential involvement of recently convicted former state Sen. Brian Burke was still in question early today.

An initial appearance was held Thursday in the case involving former Chvala aide Douglas Burnett. Burnett is charged with two misdemeanor counts related to fundraising of the Independent Citizens for Democracy, an organization that raised money for Democratic state Senate candidates. Burnett did not appear at the hearing.

Monday, October 17, 2005

State v. Chvala: Pre-trial Hearing Sets Framework for Case

A pretrial hearing in front of Dane Co. Circuit Court Judge David Flanagan today put some finishing touches on the framework in the state's long awaited caucus scandal case against former Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala.

A blow was dealt to the defense today as Flanagan denied a motion from Chvala's team that would have allowed lobbyists called by the defense to testify that they consistently met with Chvala to discuss policy matters, and to say that he did not link legislative action to campaign contributions. Flanagan indicated that he may review the motion one more time.

The prosecution, who will call on two lobbyists to testify against Chvala, were opposed to the motion, saying the lobbyists' testimony would be hearsay.

Another hotly contested motion was one by the defense to prohibit the presentation of proof suggesting that Chvala engaged in money laundering. The motion also would bar witnesses from opining that using corporate money in elections is illegal. Chvala attorney James Olson said "If you want to charge him with money laundering, charge him with money laundering and we will defend against it ... don't create innuendos." According to the motions document, Madison lobbyist William Broydrick has delivered testimony regarding allegations of money laundering against Chvala. Flanagan withheld a ruling on this motion until getting more information from each side.

Chvala's team scored a success when the judge granted a request to prohibit any witness from saying that Chvala questioned Sen. Jon Erpenbach's allegiance and did not want him to run for Senate because he was Sen. Russ Feingold's brother-in-law. Chvala's team said using such testimony would be an attempt by the state to prejudice the jury by pitting the defendant against Feingold, a popular U.S. senator.

See recent motions and the resulting rulings from today:

Recent defense motions:

Prosecution motions:

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Dog Track Sues to Stop Compact

Dairyland Greyhound Park has filed suit to stop the tribal gaming compact agreed to last week by the state and the Potawatomi.

See Dairyland's court filings:

Friday, October 07, 2005

Burke Plea Seen as Unlikely to Affect Chvala

Observers consider the trial of former Senate majority leader Chuck Chvala a different animal from Burke's, with different charges and a different prosecuting team, and regard Chvala as unlikely to cop a plea. A preliminary hearing is set for Chvala on Oct. 17, with a jury trial to begin on Oct. 31.

"If you ask anybody that knows Chuck Chvala, he likes to fight," says one legal observer. "He's a hockey player," continued the observer about the man known as state Democrats' "goalie" during the reigns of GOP Govs. Tommy Thompson and Scott McCallum.

"Chvala, if anything, is a fighter. He's a bulldog -- but he doesn't have much ice to skate on," another observer said.

Lawyers on each side, citing ethical rules, declined to comment on whether the former Senate majority leader may take the same route as Burke and enter a plea agreement. But sources this week suggested it was unlikely the case will reach a solution before trial.

See motions filed this week in the Chvala case:

*Defense motions
*Proposed defense jury instructions

*Prosecution motions
*Proposed prosecution jury instructions

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Potential Burke Sentence Draws Comparisons to Shoemaker

The Burke plea brought back memories of former Sen. Dick Shoemaker, D-Menomonie, implicated in the "lobby scandal'' of the late 1980s. Shoemaker was charged in 1989 with five felonies, pleaded to five misdemeanors, and served 45 days of a 60 day sentence. As part of the plea agreement, he also had to pay $300 in court costs and assessments and give up his seat.

The sentencing in Shoemaker's took place almost exactly 16 years ago this week. See clips from the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram about Shoemaker's misdeeds.

Oct. 1, 1989:
-- Unhappy ending; Shoemaker feeling hurt as resignation nears

-- Peers say senator worked hard

Oct. 3, 1989:
-- Judge lambastes Shoemaker at sentencing

According to one of the stories, Shoemaker pleaded guilty to "receiving money from a lobbyist, failing to disclose an $8,500 loan on three financial disclosure statements, defrauding his campaign committee of less than $500, inflating a receipt from a fundraiser at a Madison restaurant, and using his public position to accept something of value for private benefit."

After pleading guilty, Shoemaker said he had to accept the package of five misdemeanors or risk being charged with a felony. At sentencing, Dane County Judge Daniel Moeser told Shoemaker his "arrogance, ignorance and ego" caught up with him while Shoemaker's attorney Steven Hurley defended the legislator for raising money to pay his legal fees.

The Shoemaker case was part of a scandal that nicked other legislators and lobbyists, many of whom continued in their posts.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Burke Pleads Guilty to One Felony, One Misdemeanor

More than three years after being charged for misconduct in the state Capitol, former state Sen. Brian Burke pleaded guilty this morning to one felony count of misconduct in office and one misdemeanor count of obstructing an officer.

Dane County DA Brian Blanchard has recommended six months in jail and a fine of $2,500 for the crimes. Dane County Judge William Foust will determine the sentence at a hearing at 10 a.m. on Nov. 30.

"I will say that having had the case as long as I have I think that the amendments ... capture the heart and soul of the case," Foust said after accepting the plea agreement. "The heart and soul of the case was count 1 ... and I don't think anything in the agreement does a disservice to either the defense or the public."

Burke attorney Jeremy Levinson refused comment on the case as he and his client were pursued down the hall by reporters after the hearing. "This is a very personal process. We will have absolutely nothing to say. Brian will have absolutely nothing to say," Levinson said. Levinson's co-counsel, Bob Friebert, was not at the hearing.

The plea agreement dismissed two counts of tampering with public records, and one count of destruction of public documents. Eight felony counts for misconduct in public office were dismissed but will be read in at sentencing. Five misdemeanor counts of misconduct in public office were previously dismissed by the court.

As part of the plea agreement, Burke admited that the state had evidence to prove all the counts that remained against him, and also waived his right to an appeal.

Read the plea agreement

About 10 minutes before the hearing began, Levinson and DA Brian Blanchard left the room for a quick conference. Burke was left alone in the room at the defense table with a dozen TV and still cameras pointed at him. He stared at a notepad in front of him.

More than a dozen media members jammed the jury box, and about 10 more sat in the audience.

At a press conference following the hearing, Blanchard said that there were mitigating aspects to the plea agreement, including the fact that Burke had no criminal history prior to the case and no wrongdoings had been committed following the incidents of 2001.

"We do not have evidence of a long-running scheme to defraud the state," said Blanchard.

Greg Bump
JR Ross

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