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Judges and justice PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 30 October 2013 15:07

With a just ruling that kept an offender out of prison, a court case revealed that the qualities required of local judges go far beyond being on the popular side of political issues

Ozaukee County voters chose a circuit court judge last spring in a bruising contest that saw raw politics trumping the usual judicial election issues of experience, knowledge of the law and philosophy of the administration of justice. The challenger ran on a single negative issue—that the incumbent, as a private citizen, had signed a petition calling for a recall election for Wisconsin governor and was therefore no longer fit to serve as judge. Joe Voiland, a lawyer with little trial experience, easily defeated Tom Wolfgram, who in 19 years on the circuit court bench had earned a statewide reputation for judicial excellence.

    Regardless of whom they supported in the election, the citizens of Ozaukee County should now be hoping that Judge Voiland proves to be a wise and effective jurist and that if he runs for a second term it will be not on partisan political issues but on his record of service on the branch two bench.

    If a reminder that judicial elections are too important to be decided on emotional political issues was needed, it was provided last week by a case that showcased with high-definition clarity the role of local judges in ensuring that justice reaches the troubled and powerless among us, no matter their guilt before the law.

    The example was provided by another Ozaukee County circuit judge, Paul Malloy, who prevented a classic miscarriage of justice by refusing to be persuaded by a prosecutor and a state bureaucrat to send a 50-year-old mentally-ill Port Washington resident to prison for painting graffiti on the Ozaukee Interurban Trail while on probation for a similar offense.

    Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Sisley asked Malloy to follow the recommendation of a state parole agent and sentence Dale R. Ziegler, who had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for the graffiti offense, to one to two years in state prison plus two years of extended prohibition.   


    Malloy minced no words in rejecting the outlandishly severe sentence recommendation: “We’re talking about sending someone to state prison for graffiti. Prisons are reserved for people who earned their way there. A person with cognitive disabilities who becomes a town nuisance by spray painting the bike trail...I have a hard time correlating that behavior with prison.”

    The job of prosecutors is to get lawbreakers convicted and punished. Concern for the perpetrators is not high on their list of priorities. (Probation agents, on the other hand, are expected to consider the offender’s interest as well as the public’s. What the prison-for-graffiti agent was thinking is anyone’s guess.)

    Prosecutors tend to be zealous in carrying out their mission; sometimes overzealous. Judges are the counterbalance. Had Malloy taken the easy way and rubber-stamped the sentence recommendation, the case would have closed with a failure of justice.

    Though Ziegler was found competent to stand trial after a psychological exam, his mental disabilities have been well documented. “You’re competent,” Malloy told him in court, “but not by much.”

    He was arrested last year for painting references to Hitler and Ku Klux Klan on the bike trail and the parking lot of St. Peter of Alcantara Church. The district attorney chose the harsh alternative of charging Ziegler with felonies for the latter on the ground that it was criminal damage to religious property.

    He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nine months in jail, but was released after serving 30 days, contingent on probation rules requiring him to stay away from the bike trail and church parking lot and not possess graffiti materials.

    He violated those conditions earlier this year with the bike trail painting, and has been in the county jail ever since.

    And there he will stay for a while. Instead of prison, Malloy sentenced him to another year in the less threatening environment of the county jail and said the court would ask the county Human Services Department to find a group home for Ziegler to move into after serving his sentence.

    The group home “sounds like the best idea,” Malloy told him. “You don’t belong in prison.”

    What it really sounds like is justice. Finding judges who know how to recognize it and dispense it has nothing to do with politics.




 
DNR missfires on rifle rule PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 23 October 2013 14:35

This urbanized county’s abundant deer need to be hunted, but the DNR is wrong to say it should be with long-range arms that increase risks for non-hunters

Like all political organizations, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources endeavors to please a few influential constituencies. High on that list are deer hunters. Low on the list, or not there at all, are people who live near deer-hunting areas. That is evident in the DNR decision to allow rifles to be used for deer hunting everywhere in the state, including in urbanized areas like Ozaukee County.

    The decision overturns the wise rule that has been in effect since deer hunting was first allowed in Ozaukee County: Hunters must use shotguns that fire slugs (or muzzle-loaders in a special season) rather than rifles.

    The intent of the rule requiring short-range ammunition was to limit the chances of an errant shot traveling far enough to endanger people living near hunting grounds. Because Ozaukee County is not “up north” with vast unpopulated areas of deer habitat, there are many homes, even neighborhoods, within a rifle shot of places where deer are hunted.

    Slugs fired from shotguns start losing velocity rapidly after 60 yards, according to the National Rifle Association, and travel only several hundred yards. The range of a typical .30 caliber deer-hunting rifle is 4,457 yards, or nearly three miles.

    The DNR gave two reasons for its decision. One was that the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, an organization that advises the DNR and is made up of five elected delegates from each county, voted in favor of it.

    The other was statistics showing that shotguns were involved in 42% of hunting accidents in the decade ending in 2008, which a DNR official told Ozaukee Press “shows rifle hunting is no more dangerous—in fact it may be less dangerous—than hunting with a shotgun.”

     We don’t fault the DNR’s data, but its interpretation seems skewed. The great majority of the victims of hunting accidents are hunters. It stands to reason that shotguns could be as dangerous to other hunters as rifles. But the shotgun deer-hunting rule was intended to protect non-hunters. It defies logic to say rifles would not be more hazardous to distant bystanders not taking part in the hunt than shotguns.


    The county official in charge of Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve, where deer hunting is allowed by permit, understands the hazard. Andrew Struck, director of planning and parks, said the county will continue to prohibit rifles in the park and may seek an ordinance to lend more authority to the rule.

    “Clearly the neighbors would have some serious concerns if we lifted the rifle prohibition,” Struck said.

    A number of other deer-hunting areas in the county have neighbors as close as those clustered around Lion’s Den. Fortunately, there is a way to give them piece of mind too. The DNR rule allows towns to pass ordinances countermanding the new rifle regulation; town officials should take advantage of this before the Nov. 23 start of the deer-hunting season.

    By way of perspective, it should be pointed out that, based on statistics, deer hunting is not dangerous. Hunters, with few exceptions, take seriously the fact that their recreation requires the use of lethal weapons, and they are careful. The numbers of hunting accidents have been steadily declining, and involve but a tiny fraction of the more than 800,000 deer hunters afield in Wisconsin.

    Ozaukee residents should hope that deer hunters here shoot not only safely but accurately. The exploding deer population is a full-fledged nuisance, laying waste to farm fields, gardens and home landscaping, while making roads more dangerous, all at significant cost. Hunters are the only means available to counter the nuisance.

    They can do that effectively with shotguns, especially those purpose-made for deer hunting, which have evolved into sophisticated hunting arms that are as accurate and deadly as rifles at moderate ranges.

    On that note, we have to wonder why the DNR, instead of causing anxiety for rural homeowners by allowing rifles in areas once restricted to short-range arms, has not been more creative in giving hunters opportunities to harvest more of the deer that plague developed areas of the state.

    Why is the deer hunting season here only nine days long?


 
No more taxes for sports ‘amenities’ PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 16 October 2013 14:11

Residents of Ozaukee and other counties who are still on the hook for more than $100 million to pay for Miller Park should not be taxed  for a new basketball arena

You say a privately owned professional basketball team wants a new place to play and the public should be taxed by the state to pay for it? Are you nuts?

    Only a visitor recently arrived in Ozaukee County from a distant planet would think that’s crazy.

    Taxing the public to pay for sports facilities that enrich team owners is common in America. Ask anyone living in the seven counties, including Ozaukee, whose residents have paid more than $400 million to build and enhance Miller Park in Milwaukee through a sales tax surcharge enacted by the Wisconsin Legislature and are on the hook for at least $100 million more before the tax is retired.

    That is, if it’s retired. Trial balloons have been launched suggesting that after the Brewers’ stadium is paid for the tax should live on to fund a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.

    The Ozaukee County Board last week took a potshot at those balloons by passing a resolution opposing any new regional sales tax. The Racine County Board passed a similar resolution in August.

    Those were good shots, but probably not enough to prevent future flights of schemes to involve the public in paying part of the cost of a replacement for the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Expect to hear a lot of talk about the Bucks leaving Milwaukee if they don’t get a new building.

    The Bucks have a generous and fair-minded owner in Herb Kohl, but he won’t be the team owner forever. The National Basketball Association has already butted in by lobbying for a new Bucks facility. The NBA’s deputy commissioner toured the 25-year-old Bradley Center recently and found it seriously wanting. “It doesn’t have the kinds of amenities we need,” he complained.


    Sports franchises’ need for amenities has cost taxpayers dearly in cities across the country. In every case, the rationale has been that taxpayers benefit from the economic development spurred by big-name sports teams, so they should help pay for their stadiums and arenas.

    The problem with this reasoning is that stadiums are not good financial investments for taxpayers, according to numerous studies. In the book “Sports, Jobs and Taxes,” public finance experts Roger Noll and Andrew Zimbalist say it plainly: “No recent facility appears to have earned anything approaching a reasonable return on investment.”

    Analyses of cities with publicly financed sports venues have found no significant employment increases or economic growth in attributable to the facilities.

     In most cases, there is plenty of economic growth for team owners, however. When the Miller Park stadium taxing district was established in 1996, the value of the Milwaukee Brewers based on its stock price was $96 million. By 2012, a study by Forbes magazine found the team was worth $448 million. According to the magazine, the increase was a result of building Miller Park.

    If the economic growth argument doesn’t work for the cities in which the sports facilities are located, how can anyone say with a straight face, as was argued during the debate leading up to levying the stadium tax, that outlying counties such as Ozaukee benefit so much that their residents should help pay for the facility?

    Let’s wish the Bucks and Milwaukee well and hope the team stays and that somehow a way is found to provide the amenities the NBA wants so badly.

    Note: In lieu of tax money, these good wishes will be sent with a copy of the Ozaukee County Board’s no-tax resolution.


 
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