Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Ladwig Pleads Guilty to Misdemeanor Count

Former GOP state Rep. Bonnie Ladwig pleaded guilty this morning in Dane County court to a misdemeanor count of an ethics violation by a public official.

Dane County DA Brian Blanchard recommended a $1,000 fine plus court costs and restitution of $3,500. Blanchard is asking for no jail time or probation for Ladwig. The charge carries a maximum fine of $5,000 and a term of 12 months imprisonment.

Dane County Judge Steven Ebert accepted the guilty plea and set the Ladwig sentencing hearing for on or after March 10.

The plea agreement includes a stipulation that Ladwig will "cooperate completely, candidly, and truthfully" either in private interviews with law enforcement or at the scheduled trial involving former state Rep. Steve Foti and current state Rep. Scott Jensen, both former Republican Assembly leaders. Jensen was the former speaker, Foti was the former Assembly majority leader, and Ladwig was the former assistant majority leader.

"That means that she's required as a condition of the plea agreement to tell the truth when asked about these topics by anybody, and if she's called as a witness by somebody at trial to tell the truth at trial," explained Blanchard.

Asked whether he expects Ladwig to be called to the stand, Blanchard had no comment.

Ladwig was charged in October 2002 with the misdemeanor for using her office to help the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee. Ladwig took over as assistant majority leader in the state Assembly beginning in 1997, and assumed some responsibilities for guiding the campaign committee.

"To the defendants knowledge, RACC did not have its own office location or staff at any time before she assumed her RACC responsibility in 1997, and books and records of RACC were routinely kept on state property, although some records were at times kept at the defendants residence," reads the plea agreement. "This continued to be the case until at least May 2001. As part of her RACC duties, the defendant directed members of her Capitol office, who were state employees, to perform activities relating to RACC. These state employees performed some of these RACC activities at times when they were paid as state employees and using state resources. These
activities included fundraising for RACC, maintaining RACC records and preparing RACC campaign finance reports."

In a written statement the Racine Republican said the methods of operating the Assembly Republican caucus were set long before she arrived in Madison. But she
added: "Circumstances do not relieve anyone of the responsibility of making sure that their actions conform to the strict requirement of the law. This is what I failed to do."

"Finally pleading guilty is not enough," the statement continued. "Anyone who has done wrong owes an apology. I do apologize to my former constituents, to the taxpayers of Wisconsin, and to my former colleagues in the legislature. I am so sorry I have embarrassed any of you who put your faith in me. I know I have embarrassed my family, but I thank them for standing behind me through this trying time. It is now time to put this unfortunate situation behind me and move on with my life."

Ladwig is the third former legislator to plead guilty to ethics charges this year, following former Democratic Sens. Chuck Chvala and Brian Burke. Chvala pleaded guilty to two felonies, 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. He was handed a nine month jail sentence and two years probation, plus a $5,500 fine. More costs may be added to Chvala's sentence, as Dane County Judge David Flanagan gave prosecutors 45 days to come up with a restitution order.

Burke pleaded to one felony count of misconduct in office and one misdemeanor count of obstructing an officer and received a six month jail sentence. Dane County Judge William Foust also ordered $75,000 in restitution, which he said could be paid by Burke's campaign fund, and fined Burke an additional $2,500.

The fall 2002 cases of Foti and Jensen are set for trial on Feb. 21.

Jensen is charged with three felony counts of misconduct in office and acting inconsistently with his duty, and one misdemeanor charge for code/ethics violations by a public official. Foti is charged with one felony count of misconduct in office and acting inconsistently with duty.

Friday, December 16, 2005

WisPolitics: Chvala Sentencing Web cast


In a courtroom packed with media, family and curious citizens, Former Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala was handed a 9-month jail sentence Thursday on two felony counts.

The Madison Democrat was facing 19 felony counts but entered an agreement in October to plead to one of misconduct in office and a count of violating state campaign finance laws. Dane County Judge David Flanagan also fined Chvala $5,500 and gave the prosecution 45 days to come up with a restitution order.

Chvala's statement appears at the 33-minute mark of the Web cast. The
video also includes statements from Chvala attorney James Olson and
prosecutor David Feiss.
In announcing the sentence, Judge Flanagan said, "The injury done by these crimes was pervasive."

Prosecutor Feiss said the case came down to "power, corruption and courage."

--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.
--Use the "slide'' cues above the screen on the right to page
through the interview to the spot you want.
--Watch and listen, or minimize the screen, listen and do other
computer work.

Questions? Contact:

Supreme Court Accepts 7 New Cases

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has voted to accept 7 new cases.

One of those cases is B. Spiegelberg v. State of Wisconsin, et al, a case involving 150 acres of farmland divided into five tax parcels. When the state Department of Transportation took 11 acres for road building, a dispute over how to value the property sparked this court case.

The question before the Supreme Court is whether, in situations involving multiple contiguous parcels of land, the property should be valued at (1) fair market value of the property as a whole, or (2) the sum of the fair market value of each individual tax parcel. From Winnebago County.

See the release

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Judge Exceeds Prosecution Request with 9-Month Sentence for Chvala

By Greg Bump

Former Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala was sentenced today to nine months in jail and two years probation by Dane County Judge David Flanagan. The prosecution had recommended six months in jail. The judge also fined Chvala $5,500 and gave the prosecution 45 days to come up with a restitution order.

"The injury done by these crimes was pervasive," Flanagan said in announcing the sentence.

In a 15-minute statement, Chvala said he was taking responsibility for his actions by pleading to the two felony counts, and tried to explain his motivations.

Chvala acknowledged the state's "compelling evidence" that campaign work was being done on state time, and that his conduct could have been construed as condoning that activity. "Unfortunately it's clear many people stepped over the line, including myself."

Chvala said fundraising never changed his position on legislation, and his attorney James Olson reiterated that point. "Sen. Chvala never mixed policy with fundraising. Many times he would support organizations that had no ability to give funds. He could have made a lot more money had he supported special interests on the other side."

Olson contended that Chvala's crimes "haven't cost the state a dime," and that is why there is no restitution to recover.

Prosecutor Milwaukee Co. ADA David Feiss said the case comes down to "power, corruption and courage."

He lauded the "courage" of people like former staffer Doug Burnett, former state Sen. Joe Wineke and Wis. Realtors Association President Bill Malkasian, people who "came forward to tell the truth. These are real people who took real risks."

Past Courtwatch posts on Chvala:

Chvala to Be Sentenced Today

The sentencing for former Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. today. The hearing will be in Courtroom 2D of Madison's City-County Building.

Scroll down for recent posts and background on the Chvala sentencing

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Flanagan Denies Motion for Recusal

Dane County Judge David Flanagan has denied a motion from Chuck Chvala's defense team that the judge recuse himself from the former Senate majority leader's case. Sentencing in the case is set for Thursday.

In a document filed Monday, Chvala Attorney James Olson claimed that a letter from Flanagan to Milwaukee Co. Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley about restitution showed the judge's bias against his client, and that Flanagan assumed a de facto prosecutorial role.

In his response today to the defense motion, Flanagan said "the court ... can state with confidence that it does not harbor any feeling of bias against the defendant." Flanagan said his Dec. 6 letter "does not demonstrate any degree of obective partiality and the defendant's motion is therefore denied."

Read Flanagan's full response

Monday, December 12, 2005

Courtwatch Blog: Chvala Legal Team Asks for Judge's Recusal

The defense for Chuck Chvala is asking Dane Co. Judge David Flanagan to recuse himself from the case just three days before the former Dem Senate majority leader from Madison is scheduled for sentencing.

In a document filed today, Chvala Attorney James Olson claims that a letter from Flanagan to Milwaukee Co. Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley about restitution shows the judge's bias toward his client, and that he assumed a de facto prosecutorial role. After Benkley wrote that the state would be unable to come up with a restitution figure in the case, Flanagan wrote in a letter dated Dec. 6 that the state should try to submit a "proposal for restitution."

"At the very least, this possibility (restitution) must be conscientiously explored and a full public record be created," wrote Flanagan.

Flanagan said he needed a chance to read the new documents before he would make a decision on the request.

Benkley filed a letter today with Flanagan's office reiterating his points about restitution. "The Senate Democratic Caucus (SDC) employees did spend substantial State time on partisan election campaigns. The taxpayers of the State of Wisconsin paid for this misuse of resources," Benkley writes. "However, as discussed in the State's Sentencing Memorandum, it is exceedingly difficult to quantify the amount of State time which defendant Chvala is responsible for misappropriating."

-- The defense also filed a letter today from former Senate Chief Clerk Donald Schneider.

Schneider writes about the history of the state's caucus system as he knew it, and also includes a request for the judge to "please consider community service as a manner that Mr. Chvala can make restitution to the people of Wisconsin."

Friday, December 09, 2005

Chvala 'Extremely Sorry' for Caucus Violations

In an 8-page letter to Dane Co. Judge David Flanagan filed with the court Thursday, former Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala expressed his regret and asked for leniency.

"While I was the Democratic Leader of the Wisconsin Senate, State resources were used for Senate Democratic campaigns," Chvala wrote in the statement. "Since I was the head of the Senate Democratic Caucus (SDC) I should have insured that the law was followed and I accept responsibility for the violations. I am extremely sorry that these violations occurred and I apologize that they did."

"I am extremely sensitive to these charges because they not only devastated me personally, both emotionally and financially, but also because they have obscured my work and the work of other Senate Democrats for children, senior citizens, the environments and working families which achieved a Senior Prescription Drug program (senior care), lower class size for children in kindergarten through third grade (SAGE), health care for children, and increased investment in preserving sensitive land (stewardship) and even a do not call list to protect the privacy of children in their homes. I ask that you consider my career in public service and my remorse for committing crimes in your sentence of me."

See the document:

Meanwhile, Chvala's defense team filed a 47-pager filled with arguments for keeping the former senator out of jail.

"Chuck Chvala has the skill and desire to continue helping those in need," Chvala's attorneys attest. "Community service has a public benefit. Incarceration in this case has no public value"

Included in the document are character references from Capitol figures past and present, including former DPI Supt. John Benson."Senator Chvala provided the primary legislative leadership to accomplish having (SAGE) become law," reads the Benson testimonial. "SAGE continues to have great influence on early learning for children in kindergarten through third grade throughout the state."

See the document:

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Prosecution Requests 6 Months Jailtime for Chvala

The prosecution in the case against Chuck Chvala said in its sentencing recommendation that the former Senate majority leader should serve time in jail to send a message to other public officials.

"To allow defendant Chvala to walk away from justice without suffering the punitive sanction of incarceration would unduly depreciate the seriousness of his offenses," the filing said. "Moreover, in sentencing this defendant, the court will be sending a message to other elected officials. The sentence must include incarceration in order to deter similar abuses of political power."

The filing goes on to argue that "Chvala abused his public power in an intentional and systematic manner. ... In order to maintain control of the State Senate, defendant Chvala chose to violate the law and abuse his public trust."

The prosecution recommended two years probation, six months in the Dane County Jail with work-release privileges and a fine of $5,500.

Read the prosecution's entire filing:

Chvala's defense team has been contacted for its response but has not yet responded.

Appeals Court Overturns Milwaukee County Labor Ordinance

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce on Monday won its five-year fight to overturn an ordinance that forced certain county service providers to enter into labor peace agreements at the request of any union seeking to organize their employees.

See the MMAC release

In a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, Milwaukee County's "Labor Peace Ordinance" was found to be pre-empted by the National Labor Relations Act and declared unconstitutional and unenforceable.

In the ruling, the court said "a labor-peace agreement is as likely to increase as to decrease work stoppages, a consequence manifestly inconsistent with an employer's legitimate concern with avoiding stoppages. The labor-peace agreement could be complied with yet a stoppage occur anyway after the employer's workforce had been unionized. Indeed, by making it easier for unions to organize, Chapter 31 [the ordinance in question] is calculated to result in more contractors' workforces being unionized and if this happens there will be an increased risk of strikes—not in the organizing phase but later, when the union is pressing for a collective bargaining agreement or complaining of unfair labor practices."

Read the ruling

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker said the appeals court ruling was "welcome news."

He said the ordinance was "yet another example of the roadblocks that [the Ament] administration put in front of job creation and growth in Milwaukee County."

See Walker's statement

Monday, December 05, 2005

Judge: Open Meetings Laws Violated in Wahls' Firings

Dane County Judge Richard Niess ruled Friday that the state's open meetings law was violated when the Joint Committee on Legislative Organization voted by paper ballot in September 2003 to terminate the employment of Markley Wahl and Patrice O'Connor Wahl, who both worked for the Legislative Technology Services Bureau at the time.

In the decision, Niess said Senate President Alan Lasee, Assembly Speaker John Gard and former Senate Majority Leader Mary Panzer violated open meetings law by meeting outside open session on three occasions to determine the JCLO's course of action. Niess also ruled that the JCLO's paper ballot procedure violated open meetings law.

Niess said further proceedings would be needed to determine remedies for the open meetings law violations.

See Niess' decision:

Attorney Christa Westerberg, the Wahls' attorney, said, "we are extremely pleased that the judge recognized the JCLO was making important decisions without public access or notice."

See the release from the plantiffs' attorneys:

Friday, December 02, 2005

Doyle Vetoes Medical Malpractice Caps

Gov. Jim Doyle has vetoed the medical malpractice caps approved by the Legislature last month. The veto comes a day after three UW Law School professors told Doyle's office that the new caps were as constitutionally unstable as the old caps that were overturned by the state Supreme Court. (See the post directly below for more on the letter.)

"Approving a law that would quickly be overturned doesn't do anyone any good," Governor Doyle said in a press advisory. "Instead, I encourage everyone involved in this issue to come together and figure out a responsible and lasting solution that has a real chance of being upheld by the Wisconsin Supreme Court."

In sending the bill to Doyle on Wednesday, Assembly Speaker John Gard said a Doyle veto would lead doctors to leave the state and would devastate access to quality health care in rural areas. Gard said since the bill passed with overwhelming majorities, a veto override would be a possibility.

U.S. Rep. Mark Green, who along with Milwaukee Co. Exec. Scott Walker is challenging Doyle for the governorship in '06, sent out a release blasting the governor in anticipation of the veto.

"Jim Doyle was given a clear choice between quality medical care for Wisconsin families or big paydays for trial lawyers," said Green in the release. "Unfortunately, Jim Doyle chose trial lawyers over the rest of us."

Thursday, December 01, 2005

UW Law Profs: Constitutionally, New Med Mal Bill No Better Than Old

Three UW-Madison Law School professors have opined that the new medical malpractice caps passed by the Legislature do not pass constitutional muster.

Asked by Gov. Jim Doyle's office to evaluate the new proposal, Profs. Walter Dickey, Heinz Klug and David Schwartz state in a letter released today to WisPolitics, "It is clear that AB 766 suffers from the exact same constitutional defects as the statutory predecessor in Ferdon under the state Equal Protection clause. AB 766 at most half-heartedly attempts to address only one of the several constitutional problems of its predecessor, and clearly fails in that attempt."

Assembly Speaker John Gard, a leading proponent of the new caps, said yesterday if Gov. Doyle doesn't sign the bill, he'll introduce legislation to cap fees of trial lawyers working the non-economic medical malpractice cases. "Let's see the governor veto that," he said.

Greg Bump
JR Ross

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