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Across the Region: May 18


Abrahamson makes case to remain as chief justice

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson is telling a federal court judge that she should be allowed to continue the work of chief justice that she’s done for the past 19 years.

Abrahamson made the arguments in court filings made Monday and Tuesday in her ongoing lawsuit against the other justices and state.

Abrahamson argues a constitutional amendment allowing the justices to elect who is chief justice can’t be implemented until her current term is over in 2019. But four of the other six justices went ahead last month and chose Justice Patience Roggensack as chief justice.

Abrahamson says in an affidavit filed Tuesday that it was her understanding, and the understanding of voters, that if re-elected in 2009 she would continue serving uninterrupted as chief justice.


Prosecutor reconsidering charges in attempted homicide case

The district attorney in Columbia County will consider whether to resubmit charges against a former nurse accused of trying to kill the wife of a man with whom she’d had an affair.

A mistrial in the case against Stephanie McMillen was declared last Friday because of unspecified juror improprieties. The Baraboo News Republic says a conference is expected to be held Tuesday to determine how to proceed with the case.

McMillen was charged with attempted first-degree intentional homicide, stalking and obstruction. The 45-year-old Baraboo woman was arrested in September 2012.

Prosecutors say she drove to the home of Kimberly Tennier and asked her to help look for a lost cat. A criminal complaint says McMillen tried to lure Tennier to a pond on the property, but Tennier became suspicious and returned to her house.


State appeals order to pay man for confiscated equipment

An assistant attorney general told the North Dakota Supreme Court on Monday that a state investigator may have made a mistake when he gave away a confiscated piece of heavy equipment, but the agent should not be required to pay for the loss.

The state is appealing a judge’s order that Bureau of Criminal Investigation agent Arnie Rummel pay nearly $54,000 for the payloader, which was taken from Darrell Schrum’s shop in Forbes because authorities believed it was stolen. The order came after Rummel failed to meet Southeast District Judge Daniel Narum’s deadline to return the loader to county authorities.

Court documents show Rummel gave the machine to a trucking company that he said he believed to be the rightful owner.

Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Byers told justices in Bismarck on Monday that Narum could have sanctioned Rummel, but there are too many questions about ownership of the payloader to make Rummel financially liable.

“The remedy may have been in the case that the court brings agent Rummel back and issues some type of punitive sanction against agent Rummel,” Byers said. “Scolds him on the record, issues a financial punitive sanction.”

One of Schrum’s lawyers, Mark Friese, told the Supreme Court that Schrum bought the loader in good faith, after extensive research, and Rummel did not have the authority to decide what to do with it.

“The position that the state is taking is much like the man who murders his parents and then stands before the court begging for mercy at sentencing because he’s an orphan,” Friese said. “The state set this on a course by filing a criminal search warrant after being advised by the state’s attorney not to.”

Schrum did nothing wrong and deserves to “be made whole” for the loss, Friese said.

Byers said there hasn’t been a specific hearing to determine ownership of the loader and whether Schrum was a “good faith purchaser,” which he said would have to be determined by sales laws in Iowa, where the loader was sold. Friese argued that the dispute over ownership was a civil matter between two trucking companies and was wrongly characterized as stolen property.

Dickey County State’s Attorney Gary Neuharth, who argued on behalf of Schrum, said he is the chief law enforcement officer in the county and agents seized the loader against his wishes.

“If they would have used a little patience,” Neuharth said, “none of us would be here.”

Man accused of breaking windows with shovel gets 14 months

A North Dakota man accused of attacking a woman and then using a shovel to break car windows on Christmas Day has been sentenced to 14 months in custody.

WDAY-TV reports that Daniel Habiger, of Fargo, on Monday pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated assault and criminal mischief.

Officers on Christmas Day responded to a report of a man breaking windows in a Fargo neighborhood. After arriving to the scene, officers found Habiger without shoes and with cuts to his feet that appeared to have been caused by glass.

Officers then discovered that he had been involved in a dispute with a woman, who authorities say suffered injuries to the head after being hit several times and choked.


Jury awards ex-high school football player $1M in lawsuit

A jury has awarded a former Bedford High School football player almost $1 million in a case involving the school’s response to head injuries.

The Des Moines Register reports 18-year-old Kacey Strough had a pre-existing medical condition known as a “cavernous malformation,” or abnormally formed blood vessels, in his brain.

Strough’s attorney argued a head injury aggravated his condition, but he was allowed to continue playing.

Jurors Monday found the school district and a school nurse were negligent for failing to notify coaches of Strough’s potential injury and consult with Strough’s grandmother to ensure treatment.

The lawsuit originally accused teammates of throwing footballs at his head, but the claim was ultimately dropped.

Strough had a blood clot removed in November 2012. He has permanent injuries and uses a wheelchair.


Fugitive lawyer returns to Iowa court to face charges

After years on the run, a former Iowa lawyer has appeared in court to answer fraud charges that made him one of the FBI’s most wanted white-collar fugitives.

Dennis Bjorklund was arraigned in federal court in Des Moines on Monday, pleading not guilty to a 14-count indictment that charges him with defrauding clients and evading taxes.

Investigators say Bjorklund vanished in 2010, when a grand jury returned the indictment. He was arrested in Pueblo, Colorado on April 15 during a traffic stop, and has been in custody since then.

Bjorklund once ran a Coralville law firm, representing people charged with drunk driving. The indictment alleges he defrauded clients by recommending they make contributions to a phony charity he controlled. Bjorklund is also charged with underreporting his income to avoid taxes.


Man sentenced for trespassing on South Dakota reservation

A Chicago man accused by federal authorities of repeatedly violating an order banning him from entering the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota has been sentenced to one year in prison.

Acting U.S. Attorney Randolph Seiler says 44-year-old Steven Nichols was also ordered to spend one year on supervised release and to not re-enter the lands of Todd County and the reservation.

On September 2011, Nichols was barred from the reservation and escorted off tribal lands. The reason wasn’t immediately clear.

Federal authorities say Nichols violated that tribal order at least three times, and as a result, he was sentenced to nine months in federal custody in September. He was placed on a work release program, but he was again found on tribal land in January.

Nichols was charged with criminal trespass following the January incident. He later pleaded guilty to the charge.

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