May 6, 2015

State calls for dismissal of Abrahamson lawsuit

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson

The Wisconsin Department of Justice is asking a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit brought by State Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who is fighting a recently approved constitutional amendment that changes the process for selecting the chief justice of the high court.

The amendment, approved by voters last month, requires members of the court to select their leader, instead of having the most senior justice serve in the role. Abrahamson, who held the position of chief justice from 1996 until last week, has argued the amendment should not be allowed to take effect until her current term ends in 2019. However, four of the seven justices on the court voted last week to replace her with Justice Patience Roggensack, just hours after the results of the April 7 election that approved the amendment were certified.

In federal court filing on Monday, the DOJ argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed because Abrahamson received her due process, she did not state a legal claim for relief, and the state acted rationally in changing the way the chief justice is chosen.
In a separate filing, five members of the court argued that Abrahamson was never actually elected to be chief justice of the court, so she has no grounds to sue to hold the position.

Abrahamson’s lawsuit continues in federal court, with a hearing scheduled for May 15.

Menasha shooting marks ‘end of innocence’ for Fox Valley

(File photo: WRN)

(File photo: WRN)

An Appleton man and several members of a Neenah family were the victims of last night’s random shooting on a popular recreational trail. Police Chief Tim Styka said 27 year-old Sergio Valencia del Toro opened fire around 7:30, “unprovoked and at close range,” on the Trestle Trail in Menasha.

“unprovoked and at close range.” Valencia del Toro killed 33 year-old Jonathon Stoffel of Neenah and his 11 year-old daughter Olivia, and 31-year-old Adam Bentdal of Appleton. Stoffel’s 32 year-old wife Erin was wounded, and is in critical condition at an area hospital. Valencia del Toro then turned his weapon on himself.

During a Monday press conference, Styka said that Valencia del Tora, of Menasha, was a student at UW Oshkosh, and U.S. Air Force veteran who had recently enlisted in the Army and was due to report for basic training in June. In addition, he had recently begun training as a member of the Menasha police auxiliary unit.

Styka said Valencia del Toro had been in an argument with his girlfriend Sunday evening, and after she left he grabbed his guns and rode his bike to the Trestle Trail, a popular destination for bicyclists, walkers and anglers in adjacent Little Lake Buttes de Morts.

“Seventy-five to 100 people were in the area, and not minimize the loss of life we had by any means, but looking at the weapons he had, and the ammunition, it could have been a lot worse,” Styka said.

The lead surgeon at Theda Clark Medical Center said Erin Stoffel yelled for her two children to run for help. Doctor Ray Georgen said Stoffel remains in critical condition, after being shot in the abdomen, right thigh, and left hand. “You can never underestimate the power a mother to protect her children,” said Georgen. “To have three gun shot wounds and to be able to get off that bridge, is incredible.” Georgen said Erin Stoffel was within minutes of possibly dying when first responders got to her. “I’ve been here 25 years, and this type of random act just hasn’t happened in the past,” Georgen. said.

“It’s the end of innocence, but the Fox Valley definitely has a very strong spirit of resolve,” said Styka. “These things happen all over the place. It could happen on the Trestle Trail, it could happen in downtown Appleton, it could happen outside a Packers game.”

The Trestle Trail bridge and adjoining Fritse Park remain closed after the shootings. Town of Menasha parks director Michael Kading said he’s been in constant contact with police. Kading said 300,000 people use the Trestle Trail every year, and the community will have to find a way to move forward and reclaim it.



Four dead in Menasha shooting

File photo

File photo

Four people are dead – including the suspected shooter – in what Mesasha police are calling a random shooting Sunday night. Police Chief Tim Styka said officers responded to the Trestle Trail bridge over Little Lake Butte des Morts at around 7:00, after calls reporting a shooter. Styka said “multiple victims” were found on the bridge, including a person officers believed was the shooter. One report said the shooter was a male. A fifth person was wounded.

Police believe the shooting was random, and that no one was specifically targeted. Styka said about 30 officers were on the scene in a matter of minutes after a report of an “active shooter” was issued. The officers were from several agencies, and none fired their weapons. Witnesses said they heard up to a dozen shots, and saw people running in numerous directions. Styka said no one was specifically targeted. The lone survivor is said to be a woman in her 30’s. Menasha Police expect to say more at a news conference on Monday.


Massive bust nets Kenosha County drug ring

(File photo: WRN)

(File photo: WRN)

The U.S. Attorney’s office in Milwaukee, along with other federal, state and area law enforcement agencies, has announced indictments naming 24 people from Kenosha and Racine, and 20 more facing state charges, all accused of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances in what’s being called the largest effort of its kind ever in Kenosha County.

At a news conference at the Kenosha Public Museum, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Haanstad said the joint effort included undercover agents, wiretaps and surveillance in taking down an alleged large scale drug enterprise operated by a group known as “The Firm.”

“The misery that’s caused by this type of an operation throughout the community, just the listing of all of the drugs, doesn’t get to the core of the heartbreak caused by a group like this,” said Kenosha Mayor Keith Bosman, who said the drugs seized during the sweep are just the “tip of the iceberg.”

“It would be somewhat naive to think that this successful effort will end all drug dealing in our Kenosha area,” said Kenosha County District Attorney Bob Zapf. “But hopefully at the end of this legal process, it will send a strong but simple message to would be drug dealers: you sell drugs, you get arrested, you go to prison.” Zapf called the operation one of the most successful during his long law enforcement career.

“This is the largest coordinated effort in Kenosha County history,” said Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth, who noted 15 agencies were involved in the operation. “This is it. This is the biggest one we’ve had.”


Wisconsin Supreme Court justices vote to replace Abrahamson

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson

Several members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court wasted little time in moving to elect a new chief justice.

In a letter filed in federal court on Wednesday, an attorney for Justice Shirley Abrahamson said an email ballot was circulated earlier in the day, which resulted in Justice Patience Roggensack being elevated to chief justice. The letter contends that four out of seven justices participated in the vote, while Abrahamson, along with Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Patrick Crooks, objected to the procedure and did not vote.

The balloting took place just hours after state election officials certified the results of the April 7 election, in which 53 percent of those voting approved a state constitutional amendment that changes the process for selecting the chief justice. Under the change, the court will vote on its leadership, instead of having the most senior member fill that role.

Abrahamson, who has served as chief justice for 19 years, sued in federal court to block the amendment. She argues it should not take effect until after her term ends in 2019. A judge declined to block the amendment from taking place though and the case is not scheduled for another hearing in federal court until mid-May.