Thursday, July 21, 2011

Foxes Guarding the Hen House at Wisconsin Innocence Project

Posted in the Truth in Justice Files, July 21, 2011.

Truth in Justice Files is the editorial adjunct to Truth in Justice, the organization and website founded to educate the public about the criminal conviction of wholly innocent people. The website is at
We were not entirely surprised when the Wisconsin Innocence Project’s press release landed on our desks on July 12, 2011. It announced the formation of an advisory board to “steer the work” of the Wisconsin Innocence Project in advocating for wrongly convicted individuals. Members of this advisory board include current and retired prosecutors, ranking police investigators and administrators, and defense attorneys.

This was not a complete surprise because we had heard from inmates represented by the Wisconsin Innocence Project who have experienced sudden reversals of course in their cases. One, for example, needs DNA testing of some key evidence long suppressed by the prosecutor, and had been waiting to learn how much it would cost. Suddenly, the inmate is told that a whole new crop of students will begin reinvestigating the case from scratch – just about the time the prosecutor became a member of the advisory board. It seems plain the direction in which this inmate’s case is being “steered.”

Some of the new advisory board members make a reasonable person wonder what the co-founders of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, Keith Findley and John Pray, were smoking when they chose them. Retired Dane County Assistant District Attorney John Norsetter, for example, successfully prosecuted Ralph Armstrong in 1980 for the murder of Charise Kamps. Fourteen years later, when Norsetter got a call from a Texas woman who reported that Armstrong’s brother, Steve, had confessed to the killing, he did what any prosecutor would do: ">he preserved his win by not reporting the new information. In 2006, in the same case, Norsetter flagrantly and deliberately violated a court order by sending key DNA evidence for testing that resulted in the destruction of the evidence. Wisconsin finally threw in the towel in Armstrong’s case in 2010.

And how did Norsetter’s colleague, retired Dane County Deputy District Attorney Judy Schwaemle, get on the board? In 1992, she convinced a jury that Anthony Hicks, the only black man in a white apartment complex, raped his neighbor. Two pubic hairs from the assailant were offered as scientific proof. Sentencing was delayed while Schwaemle trotted out two jailhouse snitches to claim that Hicks solicited them to kill the victim and his attorney. The judge eventually decided the witnesses would lie on their own mothers if it got them leniency, but he sentenced Hicks to 19 years in prison. Five years later, DNA excluded Hicks as the donor of the pubic hair. Schwaemle reissued the rape charges and kept Hicks in custody until she had to fish or cut bait. She cut bait but said the evidence “does not proclaim him innocent. It merely introduces reasonable doubt.'' Her continuing refusal to apologize or admit error was the subject of editorials in the Madison Capital Times and in the Isthmus newspapers in 2002.

Cases investigated, prosecuted and/or defended by members of this advisory board are bound to be presented to the Wisconsin Innocence Project, and in each instance, a conflict of interest exists. How are the defense attorneys going to advise regarding, say, case selection criteria, on cases involving their own ineffective assistance? Do you think they’ll want to see that inmate’s conviction reversed, knowing that a malpractice lawsuit against them is probable? How about police investigators and administrators? How likely are they to “steer the work” out the door when police misconduct in their agency was key to the conviction? Are prosecutors—including retired prosecutors—going to let their big wins of days gone by be overturned? Or will they close the doors on the innocent in order to keep the win/loss ratio that was the keystone of their professional identity? Such blatant conflicts of interest can never achieve the “full and balanced consideration of the issues” the Wisconsin Innocence Project says it seeks.

In the end, we must ask why? Why is the Wisconsin Innocence Project ignoring conflicts of interest that would put private practitioners in peril of losing their licenses? And why is the Wisconsin Innocence Project so willing to throw innocent inmates under the bus?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Is the Milwaukee County District Attorney Unethical?

The July 1, 2011 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article entitled "Review of 2,100 homicides found none deserving further DNA testing" is clear evidence of how far District Attorney John Chisholm will go to protect former District Attorney E. Michael McCann, the same prosecutor who hand delivered him his job.  McCann, if you remember, is the same person who withheld the information about Laurie Bembenek's husband, Elfred O. Schultz Jr., in order to get her convicted for murder. Schultz, a Milwaukee Police Detective, was a suspect, lied about his whereabouts on the night of the murder, and was known by McCann to have repeatedly lied about other issues.  When Milwaukee Police Internal Affairs Division had reported that information to him he responded with "This is a murder case.  Who do you want?  Do you want Bembenek or Schultz?  MCCann was well aware if he told the truth he could not convict Bembenek.(See  Bembenek's Attorney Mary L. Woehrer has made various attempts to discuss the Bembenek  matter with the DA but has received absolutely no response.

The article further indicates that Assistant District Attorney Norman Gahn, the same prosecutor who did everything he could to obstruct and derail Bembenek's DNA testing, participated in the case reviews.  In one Bembenek issue, Gahn, who always argues on cases he prosecutes that the DNA is not contaminated, changed his position and claimed the DNA found by her experts was contaminated in the state crime labratory.  In another, he participated in covering up the facts about the contamination, and another, argued against everything that could have been used in her behalf.  He did everything he could to assist in maintaining the cover-up of the truth.  (See

Chisholm's sham investigation reported "The process began with the legal presumption the convictions were valid, and it was not a search for doubt."  It was obviously in response to the 2009 discovery that 17,698 DNA profiles were missing from Wisconsin's Databank of felons' DNA.  At least 4 innocent people have been released from prison since then.  The Journal Sentinel article also stated, "Keith Findley, co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, which assisted in the review early on, said he was suprised and disappointed by the conclusion.  He said there are at least seven other convictions that he thinks merit further DNA testing of evidence."  "It might get done, but apparently not with the co-operation of the DA's office."  "It will probably be through litigation.  That's unfortunate."  You can safely bet everything you have that in the future the DA will argue against all of those seven convictions by claiming that his office had completed a thorough investigation because they are always interested in doing the right thing.  So is the fox who guards the hen house.

Proof of the above can be found in the Wisconsin State Journal and

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Public Officials' Wrongdoing Concealed

      I am aware that Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey A. Conen, the same judge that assisted the district attorney in depriving Laurie Bembenek of a fair DNA hearing, had been arrested in May of 2004 by a Milwaukee County Deputy Sheriff for Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants. His case was later transferred to Dane County where he was convicted of driving with a prohibited blood alcohol level which is considered the same violation as a Driving Under the Influence. A check of Wisconsin Circuit Court Access records provides no evidence or information that Conen was ever arrested or convicted for Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants. 
      That’s not all. In February 2004, former Wisconsin Attorney General Peggy Lautenschlager, the State’s top law enforcement officer, was arrested in Dodge County for Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants in her State owned car. Her husband, William Rippl, a Neenah police officer, responded to the Dodge County Sheriff’s Department and picked her up. Although it is public knowledge that Lautenschlauger was ultimately convicted of Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants a check of the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access files reveals no information or evidence of that conviction under either her name or her husband’s.
      But wait, there’s more. In August 2004,  the head of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's safety office, John H. Evans, was convicted of operating while intoxicated. Also, in August 2002, Guy Gottschalk the president of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, acknowledged and apologized for driving drunk in March 2002. And, in 1997 Dane County Circuit Judge Moria Kreuger was arrested for drunk driving. Wisconsin Circuit Court Access provides no information or evidence about those cases.  The people responsible for removing all of these public records should be penalized to the maximum extent of the law.

On July 12, 2011 I personally reported both the Judge Jeffrey Conen and Peggy Lautenschlager to Dan Bice of the "No Quarter" section of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  No mention in the paper as of July 21, 2011.

Thursday, June 30, 2011


A Question of Ethics

How can we respect the Wisconsin Supreme Court when the moral and ethical conduct of its members is in question?  Justice Annette Ziegler has been disciplined for conflicts of interest in cases where she ruled in favor of corporations wherein she had an undisclosed personal financial interest.  Charges against Justice Michael Gableman for lying about his opponent Justice Louis Butler during their election campaign were dropped when the other Justices voted a three to three tie about his case, therefore making the case a moot issue.  Now published reports claim that Justice Ann Walsh Bradley has been physically choked by Justice David Prosser in relation to arguing about their work on a politically significant case which obviously they eventually decided along political party lines.  Also, it has been reported that Justice David Prosser has referred to Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson as a "bitch." And that’s just the tip of the ice berg.
The Supreme Court has a long history of making creative decisions and new law in order to cover up the wrongdoings of friends and associates.  Sometimes, important appeal questions are not answered or even addressed in order to allow a decision to remain in favor of the attorney general, to the detriment of a citizen petitioner.  Sometimes the entire legal community is abuzz with questions concerning the conduct of Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, her leadership of the Court and her dodging of certain legal issues.  Evidence has recently surfaced that indicates then Justice Louis Butler had at least one ex-party communication with an assistant attorney general on a case that was pending at the time.  And I have personal knowledge that Justice Ann Walsh Bradley added a false derogatory opinion about an attorney in a published decision in order to protect a circuit court judge.
Decisions made by the Supreme Court can ultimately ruin a citizen financially, or even worse, deprive someone of his freedom.  While no one, or entity, could ever be perfect we have the absolute right to demand better conduct from the Supreme Court and should expect nothing less.  In order to regain the credibility of the Supreme Court, justices who cannot properly conduct themselves should step down and allow someone with higher ethics and moral conduct to take their place.  But, that will never happen.