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Across the Region: Wisconsin high court to tackle DNA surcharges


High court to tackle DNA surcharges

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next month in a case questioning whether a law requiring felons to pay a surcharge for DNA testing should have been applied retroactively in a Racine woman’s burglary conviction.

On Dec. 30, 2013, Tabitha Scruggs drove a male accomplice to a home in Racine, where he broke two windows and helped steal a TV, PlayStation and video game. Scruggs was later charged, pleaded no contest and was sentenced.

The crimes took place two days before the effective date of a new statute requiring criminals to pay $250 for every felony they are convicted of. The charges are meant to cover the cost of DNA testing.

The old law had still called for a $250 surcharge but had let judges decide if they wanted to impose it. What’s more, there had been no requirement that $250 be collected for every felony conviction.

Scruggs argued that the old version of the law should have applied in her case because her crime had occurred before the effective date of the required surcharges. The state Legislature had actually approved the mandatory DNA charges in the middle of 2013 by modifying Wis. Stat. 973.06, but the new rule did not take effect until the start of the next year.

When Scruggs was sentenced in Racine County Circuit Court, Judge Allan Torhorst never mentioned that she would have to pay the surcharge. Learning of the fee, Scruggs used a post-conviction motion to contend the new surcharge had been applied retroactively and was therefore unconstitutional.

She pointed out that laws enacted by the Legislature are generally presumed to have only a prospective application. The argument failed to sway Torhorst, who denied Scruggs’ post-conviction motion.


Federal judge refuses to block Wisconsin right-to-work law

A federal judge has refused a union’s demand to block Wisconsin’s right-to-work law.

The law prohibits businesses and unions from reaching agreements that require all workers, not just union members, to pay union dues. Unions have argued the law enables nonunion members to receive free representation.

Two chapters of the International Union of Operating Engineers filed a lawsuit in May alleging the law amounts to an unconstitutional taking. U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller upheld the law on Monday, citing a 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upholding Indiana’s right-to-work law.

A Dane County judge struck down the Wisconsin law in April, but a state appeals court has reinstated it while it considers state attorneys’ appeal.


Supreme Court justice announces re-election committee

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler is starting to put together her re-election campaign.

Ziegler is nearing the end of her first 10-year term on the court. She faces re-election in the spring of 2017.

She announced Tuesday that she has formed an initial campaign steering committee.

Members include former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, a Republican; Cory Nettles, who served as commerce secretary under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle; Mike Grebe, former president of the Bradley Foundation; John Daniels, chairman emeritus at the Quarles and Brady law firm; former Lt. Gov. Margaret Farrow, a Republican; Kim Marotta, sustainability director at MillerCoors; and former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice John Wilcox.



High court cuts fee award in whistleblower case

The Iowa Supreme Court is reducing a judge’s $368,000 award of legal fees to an Iowa State University whistleblower who was viciously mistreated by his superiors.

The court said Friday that Dennis Smith isn’t entitled to the full award because his case was only partially successful.

The court sent the case back to a trial judge to recalculate the award.

A court awarded Smith nearly $1.3 million in damages after hearing how he was unfairly branded a workplace threat by his boss after he reported her for financial wrongdoing. Those damages were cut in half after an earlier Iowa Supreme Court ruling overturned most of his whistleblower award.

Justices say the judge should reduce the fee award for time Smith’s attorney spent on matters clearly unrelated to the whistleblower claim.


Iowan says he won’t have to support child who’s not his

A Davenport man says he’s reached a divorce settlement that will end his state-required obligation to provide financial support for another man’s child.

The Iowa Department of Human Services notified Joe Vandusen in March that he’d have to pay child support for his estranged wife’s 1-year-old child born of her relationship with another man. Vandusen says he was told he was financially responsible because he was still legally married to the woman.

Vandusen’s lawyer told The Des Moines Register on Monday that part of his successful divorce filing included paperwork to disestablish Vandusen’s legal paternity over the child. Vandusen says his ex-wife was cooperative and helped him contest the state law that was requiring him to pay support for her child.

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