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Woman guilty of not reporting day-care abuse loses appeal PDF Print E-mail
Daily News
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 20 January 2016 22:20

Ziehr’s fight to have 2014 jury verdict reversed is rejected by higher court, which said county judge did not err

A 40-year-old Grafton woman who was convicted by an Ozaukee County jury in 2014 of failing to report an allegation of abuse at the day-care center she owned and operated has lost her appeal.

Trista J. Ziehr, who owned Family Tree Learning Center in Cedarburg when the abuse was alleged to have occurred in March 2013, had asked the Wisconsin District II Court of Appeals to reverse her conviction, arguing that Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Joseph Voiland improperly instructed the jury and erred by allowing the prosecution to admit evidence of another alleged instance of abuse.

In its decision last week, the Court of Appeals disagreed, concluding that Voiland administered the law correctly during Ziehr’s one-day trial on Oct. 30, 2014.

This was the second time Ziehr had appealed to the higher court.

On Dec. 8, 2014, Voiland sentenced Ziehr to 30 days in the county jail despite a recommendation from District Attorney Adam Gerol that she only be placed on probation and fined. 

Two weeks later, the judge rejected a motion from Ziehr’s attorney, John Schiro, to stay the sentence pending appeal. Schiro then filed an emergency motion with the Court of Appeals.

Appeals court Presiding Judge Linda Neubauer concluded Voiland erred in his evaluation of the motion and ordered Ziehr’s sentence stayed pending reconsideration by Voiland.

Noting that Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol did not oppose Ziehr’s motion, Neubauer wrote in her decision that if Ziehr’s punishment was not stayed, her “misdemeanor 30-day sentence will be served by the time the (appeals) process is complete. If she does prevail upon appeal, she will have suffered irreparable injury.”

Now, with the appeal settled, Ziehr has 30 days to appeal to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. If she decides not to, she will have to serve her 30-day sentence and pay a $1,000 fine.

Ziehr’s protracted legal battle dates to March 30, 2013, when a 4-year-old boy who attended the center made reference to indecent touching. An employee reported the boy’s comment to Ziehr, who dismissed it as “potty talk,” according to court records.

That night, the boy’s father called Ziehr to report that a 12-year-old bribed his son to touch the older boy indecently. Ziehr referred him to the employee who heard the 4-year-old talk about touching earlier in the day.

The next day, the boy’s mother informed Ziehr that she reported the incident to police. 

When told by a detective investigating the case that because she was a licensed day-care provider Ziehr was obligated by law to report suspected abuse to authorities, Ziehr said she didn’t know she was required to do that, according to the criminal complaint.

Ziehr argued during the course of her case that she didn’t initially believe the allegations and that before she could complete her investigation, the 4-year-old boy’s mother reported it to police. She maintained that she thought this satisfied her obligation.

“We’re talking about hours,” Schiro said during the sentencing, referring to the time between when the abuse was reported to Ziehr and when police were informed. “It’s not like it was days.”

In her appeal, Ziehr argued that Voiland erred by not instructing the jury she had a reasonable amount of time to investigate the allegations before reporting them to authorities.

Ziehr also contended that the jury should have been told that she fulfilled her obligation if she “caused the appropriate authorities to be notified of the alleged abuse by another person,” and that she did not have to report suspected abuse if she “reasonably believed the appropriate authorities have already been notified by a third person.”

The appeals court, however, disagreed, essentially concluding that Ziehr’s interpretation and application of the law was incorrect. Thus, the court determined Voiland did not err in instructing the jury. 

Ziehr’s appeal also challenged the criminal complaint, which she argued was duplicitous because it referenced another alleged instance of abuse in April 2013 at the day-care center, and contended that Voiland abused the circuit court’s discretion by admitting evidence of the second alleged abuse.

Again, the appeals court disagreed. It noted that although the complaint referenced the second incident, it did not allege Ziehr failed to report abuse in that case.

“Therefore, there was no doubt during the trial or when the jury was instructed that Ziehr was only charged with failing to report the suspected (March) abuse,” the court opined.

In addition, the court determined Voiland properly allowed evidence of the alleged April assault to be admitted because its purpose was to prove “absence of mistake.” In explaining its point, the court cited a statement made by Gerol during the trial: “We know that (Ziehr) didn’t somehow make a mistake because we know that a few weeks later another parent called up, and (Ziehr) didn’t do anything different then.”

During Ziehr’s sentencing, Gerol said she simply didn’t want to believe the abuse occurred.Daily Press

“Her belief was that it (the abuse) couldn’t have happened,” Gerol said. “She put her head in the sand. Despite being aware of her obligation to report, she just simply sat there and waited until people took the case to her.”

Schiro noted that the abuse at the day-care center, which was shut down by the state in April 2013, was another terrible event in Ziehr’s life.

In October 2009, Ziehr’s 14-year-old son Cody Reetz was strangled by his stepfather, Charles Avey, in Germantown. Prosecutors said Avey, who was Ziehr’s estranged husband, killed the boy in retaliation for Ziehr reporting him to police in connection with an earlier incident.

“My client has had a tough decade,” Schiro said. “She started the child-care business thinking it would be something for her and her family and it really became somewhat of a nightmare.”

Port voters to have only one contested election PDF Print E-mail
Daily News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 06 January 2016 20:16

Port Washington voters will have virtually no local contested elections on the ballot this April.

The exception will be in the Port Washington-Saukville School District, where two school board members will face a challenger in the April 5 election.

Aaron Paulin, who ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the school board last spring, will vie with incumbents Kelly O’Connell-Perket and Brian Stevens to fill two City of Port Washington seats on the board.

While there’s competition for that seat, no one has registered to run for a seat representing the towns of Grafton and Saukville. That leaves the door open for a write-in candidate.

There will be no races for City of Port Washington aldermanic seats this spring.

Three incumbents, Paul Neumyer, Doug Biggs and Dave Larson, filed nomination papers for their seats by Tuesday’s deadline.

The men represent the city’s 2nd, 4th and 6th Districts, respectively.

There will be races for Ozaukee County board seats, but none in the northern end of the county. 

Every supervisor has filed nomination papers and four of them face challengers. 

In the 15th District, which  represents a portion of Cedarburg, incumbent Kathie Geracie faces newcomer Jason Myatt.

In Mequon, incumbent Justin Strom will be challenged by former board member Robert Walerstein for the 21st District seat. In the city’s 22nd District, incumbent Karl Hertz will vie with newcomer Cynthia Raatz. In the 26th District, Supr. Jennifer Rothstein and newcomer Kimberly Steinbrenner will face off. Daily Press

In the 16th District, which represents a portion of the City of Cedarburg, Douglas Gall will run unopposed for the seat formerly held by Gerald Walker, who died in November.

The spring election will be held on Tuesday, April 5.

New Year’s plans: Get a safe ride, take the plunge PDF Print E-mail
Daily News
Wednesday, 30 December 2015 19:11

Revelers will have plenty of opportunity for fun this New Year’s.

On New Year’s Eve, they will have several options to get home safely, and on New Year’s Day they can plunge into the shockingly cold water of Lake Michigan with the Polar Bears.

The Ozaukee County shared-ride taxi service will be running from 9 p.m. Thursday, New Year’s Eve, until 4 a.m. New Year’s Day.

There is no charge for the service, which runs throughout the county.

To arrange for a ride, call 238-8294 or 284-8294.

Port Washington’s bars and restaurants have also banded together to provide a free bus service in the city. The bus runs from 7:30 p.m. New Year’s Eve until 4 a.m. New Year’s Day.

A crowd will gather at the east end of Jackson Street at the Port Washington lakefront on New Year’s Day for the 2 p.m. Polar Bear plunge.

The number of spectators often exceeds the number of Polar Bears, which Jon Crain, president of the Port Polar Bears, predicted could be in the 200s.

“It all depends on the temperature,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to.

“If it’s in the mid-20s, like it’s supposed to be, I’m predicting 200 people.”

Last year, about 175 people took a romp in Lake Michigan, he said.

The crowd has ranged from 50 to 300 in years past, Crain said.

He doesn’t anticipate having to break up the ice before the annual event, Crain said.

“As long as this stuff doesn’t keep up, we’ll be fine,” Crain, a Port Washington Street Department employee, said Monday as he plowed and salted streets.

Crain offered some advice to those contemplating a dip in the lake.

“Bring warm clothes,” he said. “If you let the cold kick in, you’re going to be shivering hours later.”

He also asked that people respect the city’s fire department and dive team, which are on standby in case anyone has a problem during the event.

“We want everyone to have a good time, but to also be safe,” Crain said.

PWHS alumni ready to raise a grateful sound PDF Print E-mail
Daily News
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 30 December 2015 19:09

Nearly 200 current, former music students to join forces for fundraising concert Jan. 2

Sarah Kruske’s invitation to alumni of Port Washington High School’s music program to perform together again at their alma mater during a Saturday concert has been well received.

About 80 graduates of the school’s vocal and instrumental programs, who vary in age from their late teens to late 70s and hail from cities across the country, will perform in the alumni fundraising concert on Jan. 2, said Kruske, a 2012 Port High graduate who is organizing the event.

Alumni will be joined by about 100 current Port High students during the concert, which will feature choir, band, vocal jazz, solos and combo performances.

“I expect a lot of people to show up and realize how much they miss performing together,” Kruske said. 

But as much as the fundraising concert will be a reunion for performers, it was also conceived by Kruske as a way for graduates, many of whom were inspired to pursue careers in music because of their experiences at Port High, to thank a community and give back to a school that has demonstrated a commitment to music, Kruske said. 

“I got into a top music program because of my experience at Port High,” said Kruske, who will graduate in spring from DePaul University in Chicago with a degree in performing arts management. “What I’ve learned from students at college who talk about funding for their high school programs being cut is just how rare Port High’s program and its teachers are.

“And what I really love is the community support Port High’s program has. Time and time again, our community has shown its support for music in schools, and that’s not the way it is in every community.”

The concert is free, but organizers are asking for donations to benefit the music program. Net proceeds will be used to equip a new music theory computer lab, Kruske said.

Donors have already contributed about $1,000 and the Port High Music Boosters club is providing volunteers the night of the concert and a meal for performers, she said.

The concert is also ideally timed to give graduates one last chance to perform in the auditorium they remember, Choral Director Dennis Gephart said. 

A $45.6 million high school project  approved by voters in April will include a major renovation of the auditorium and new band and choir facilities. Work is slated to begin in spring and be completed by fall 2019.

“We want people who performed here as Port High students to have one more experience on this stage,” Gephart said.

While having nearly 200 musicians involved in the concert is good news, it puts a premium on planning and organization, said Kruske, who last year organized a fundraising concert at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Port Washington to thank music director Drew Rutz and the parish and raise money for the church organ.

“Sarah has experience in organizing concerts, so this is nothing new for her, although this one is exponentially larger than the organ fundraiser,” Gephart said. “It’s really enjoyable to watch a former student of yours just kind of take things over.”

The musicians will rehearse together for the first time on New Year’s Day, then practice the day of the concert before taking the stage.

“We’re going to take some time for a sit-down talk between alumni and students so the alumni can discuss what the Port High music program did for them and what they learned along the way,” Kruske said.

The alumni fundraising concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 2, in the Port High auditorium at 427 W. Jackson St. Doors open at 7 p.m.

A $5 donation at the door is suggested.

Preferred seating tickets for sponsors of the concert can be picked up at a will-call table in the auditorium hallway.

Image information: 

PORT WASHINGTON HIGH SCHOOL graduate Sarah Kruske is organizing an alumni fundraising concert with the help of Choral Director Dennis Gephart (right) and Band Director Alan Dust. The performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 2, in the school auditorium.                 Press file photo

Challenger joins incumbents in PW-S school race PDF Print E-mail
Daily News
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 30 December 2015 19:09

Two Port Washington-Saukville School Board incumbents will face a challenger on the April 5 ballot.

Aaron Paulin, who ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the board in spring, has registered to run against incumbents Kelly O’Connell-Perket and Brian Stevens to represent the City of Port Washington on the board. 

The two candidates who garner the most votes in the three-person race will be elected to the board.

Paulin, a social studies teacher at West Bend West High School, ran against Stevens, Brenda Fritsch and Michelle Shinners in the April 7, 2015, election.

Stevens was appointed to the board in February 2014 to replace the late Jim Olson, who resigned for health reasons. He was elected in spring and must run again in April 2016 to retain his seat because Olson’s term would have expired on April 25.

O’Connell-Perket was first elected to the board in 1998.

No candidates have registered to run for a seat on the board representing a small, southern area of the School District in the  towns of Grafton and Saukville.

That seat had been filled by Paul Krechel, who was appointed to the board in July 15, 2014, and elected without opposition in April 2015. He resigned in October citing conflicting career obligations.Daily Press

The seat has been a challenge to fill because the area it represents is relatively small. Only about 350 registered voters live in this area, officials said. 

If no one is elected to the seat, the board will continue its efforts to appoint a board member. 

Candidates have until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 5, to file nomination papers and declare their candidacy.

Diamond to start new year in jail for bar fight knife incident PDF Print E-mail
Daily News
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 23 December 2015 18:54

Former actor ordered to begin serving 120-day sentence on Jan. 15 for Christmas night tavern fracas in Port

Nearly a year after he pulled a knife during a Christmas night bar fight in Port Washington, former television actor Dustin Diamond was ordered last week to report to jail next month to begin serving a 120-day sentence.

Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Malloy, who in June stayed Diamond’s sentence pending an appeal, ordered the man famous for playing Screech on the 1990s TV show “Saved by the Bell” to turn himself in to the county jail by 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 15.

Diamond’s attorney, Daniel Fey, said during a Dec. 17 hearing that Diamond weighed the merits of an appeal, but decided against it. 

The case against Diamond, 38, of Port Washington, went to trial in May. After hearing three days of testimony and deliberating for just less than six hours, an Ozaukee County jury acquitted Diamond of one felony count of second-degree recklessly endangering safety in the stabbing of 25-year-old Casey Smet of Port Washington at the Grand Avenue Saloon.

The jury, however, found him guilty of two misdemeanor charges — carrying a concealed weapon and disorderly conduct with a dangerous weapon.

Malloy withheld sentences on both convictions and placed Diamond on probation for 15 months. As a condition of probation, the judge ordered him to serve 60 days in jail for each conviction.

The jury also found his fiancee, 28-year-old Amanda Schutz of Port Washington, guilty of disorderly conduct. She was fined.

During the trial, which was covered by media from throughout the country, witnesses gave two different accounts of what occurred at the tavern, and it appears the jury believed parts of both stories. 

Although a single surveillance camera in the tavern captured much of the incident on video, which was used extensively by both the prosecution and defense, it left ample room for interpretation.

District Attorney Adam Gerol built his case on the testimony of nine witnesses, five of whom are relatives and friends who,  as they traditionally do on Christmas, gathered at Grand Avenue Saloon the night of the incident.

Some of the people in the group admitted to taking photos of themselves with Diamond and Schutz in the background after they realized the man who played Screech was just feet away from them, but said they did little else to provoke Schutz.

It was Schutz, several of them testified, who pushed one woman in their group, punched another and attacked a third woman, inciting the scuffle that lead to Smet being stabbed.

Several prosecution witnesses said they saw Diamond holding a knife or heard it click open, but no one testified to seeing Diamond stab Smet. In fact, no one knew Smet was injured, including him, until after the fight was over. 

Diamond’s lawyer, Thomas Alberti, told jurors that Smet’s wound near his armpit was tiny and urged them to rely on the video rather than the testimony of a group of relatives and friends who had been drinking.

“We’re here over a nick in a drunk guy’s shoulder,” Alberti said.

Diamond was the lone defense witness and, in a polished performance on the stand, told jurors that he and his fiancee were minding their own business at the bar when the group of revelers sitting near them — atwitter by the fact they were in the same bar with a television actor — began harassing them.

Diamond testified that members of the group attacked and bloodied Schutz as she tried to leave the bar, and in an attempt to deter her attackers, he opened a folding pocketknife he was holding. That’s when Smet charged him, Diamond said.Daily Press

“Casey came out of nowhere,” Diamond testified. “He had come running at me and tried to put his hands on my throat.

“I didn’t swing or motion the knife at him. I think he injured himself when he grabbed me.”

Gerol, who referred to Diamond as “an accomplished liar” in his closing statement, said the true story was the one told by his witnesses.

While on probation, Diamond has been ordered to maintain absolute sobriety and not have contact with Smet or enter Grand Avenue Saloon.

Malloy granted Diamond, who is now a stand-up comedian, Huber work release privileges while in jail. 

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