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Across the Region: Ex-judge quits fledgling ethics board


Ex-judge quits fledgling ethics board

A member of Wisconsin’s newly created Ethics Commission who resigned less than six months into his term issued a stinging rebuke of the fledgling agency on Monday, saying the partisan board won’t enforce the law, is too secret and is purposefully set up to fail.

Robert Kinney, who spent more than 30 years as an Oneida County circuit judge, said in his statement that he announced his resignation at the Wisconsin Ethics Commission meeting last week. Kinney, one of three Democratic picks for the commission that also includes three Republican members, publicly tore into the board Monday as dysfunctional and unwilling to investigate or aggressively enforce campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws.

“People were unwilling to set aside their partisan agendas and actually enforce the law and I see no hope that’s going to change,” Kinney said in a telephone interview. “It’s structured in such a way that was probably the purpose. It was a waste of my time.”

Kinney said he made up his mind to resign after a decision that was made in closed session at the last meeting. He said he could not speak about the details, but he blasted the commission as being too secret.

“I’ve seen enough to make me gravely concerned about the message that is being sent by the commission: that the law will either not be enforced or it will not be aggressively enforced,” Kinney said.

Democratic chairwoman of the commission Peg Lautenschlager and Republican vice chair Katie McCallum issued a joint statement thanking Kinney for his service but not commenting on the accusations he made. McCallum declined to comment further when reached by phone.

Gov. Scott Walker told reporters that he wanted to talk with Kinney about his concerns. Kinney was appointed by Walker, who made his selection from a pool of former judges forwarded by Democrats. The other Democratic members of the commission are Lautenschlager, a former attorney general, and Milwaukee attorney David Halbrooks.

The three Republican members are McCallum, the state GOP secretary; Pat Strachota, the former Assembly majority leader; and Mac Davis, a former Republican state senator and Waukesha County judge.

The Republican-controlled Legislature created the commission to replace the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board in July. The Wisconsin Elections Commission, also comprised of partisan appointees, was created at the same time to deal with running elections.

Kinney said the Ethics Commission is “like the Star Chamber in terms of keeping the public out.”

“These are enforcement of campaign finance laws, ethics laws and lobbying laws,” he said. “If there’s one thing that’s certain in my opinion, it’s that the public has a right to know the specifics of complaints that have been made.”

Kinney was on the losing end of a commission vote in August to ban donations by board members to the very politicians they are regulating. Kinney said Monday that the vote was not a factor in his decision to resign.

Kinney said the “opening salvo” was an October vote to strike language from the mission statement that its work included “furthering Wisconsin’s tradition of clean and open government.”

“What possible reason there would be to want to strike that aspirational language, I don’t know,” Kinney said.


Juror’s Facebook posts imperil $2 million verdict

A juror’s Facebook posts during a federal civil rights trial could jeopardize a $2 million verdict awarded to a man who claimed he was illegally strip-searched by a Milwaukee police officer.

Jurors last month found that former officer Michael Vagnini had violated Willie Newman’s civil rights during a 2010 arrest.

But now the city’s lawyers have asked the judge to question jurors under oath after the city says it found one juror had posted about the trial on Facebook, and also had shared a post by an anti-police activist.

If the judge determines that outside information entered the deliberations, he could throw out the verdict.

Vagnini was one of four officers convicted of crimes in illegal strip and cavity searches from 2008 to 2012.



Court to hear appeal in lottery fixing case

The Iowa Supreme Court has agreed to review the conviction last year of a former lottery computer administrator who was accused of fixing a 2010 Hot Lotto game in Iowa.

An order filed Thursday by Chief Justice Mark Cady granted the review of Eddie Tipton’s case.

Tipton was convicted last year of tampering with lottery computers and attempting cash the $16.5 million Hot Lotto ticket.

The Iowa Court of Appeals in July threw out the attempt to cash the ticket charge but upheld computer tampering.

The Supreme Court could uphold the appeals court, reverse it and reinstate the dismissed charge or dismiss the remaining charge.

Tipton worked for the Multi-State Lottery Association which provides computers for several states.

Tipton faces a second trial next year related to games in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Wisconsin


Court clears way for ‘Field of Dreams’ complex

The Iowa Supreme Court seems to agree with Kevin Costner that there’s no better place to play baseball than on fields cut out of the corn.

The court on Friday cleared the way for a 24-field baseball complex at the “Field of Dreams” movie site in Dyersville, upholding a lower court’s decision that the City Council properly rezoned the property from agricultural to commercial.

The ruling came on an appeal by some Dyersville residents who sought to block the development of the All-Star Ballpark Heaven youth baseball and softball complex, fearing the complex would cause disruptions to surrounding farm operations and traffic, among other things.

The complex is to be centered on the site were “Field of Dreams,” starring Costner, was shot. The movie was released in 1989 and has been embraced by people from throughout the country, who connected with its story of a farmer who carved a baseball field out of his corn crop. Thousands of people make the drive down to the small town about 140 miles northeast of Des Moines to run the bases at the baseball diamond and walk out to the cornfields that border the outfield.

An attorney for the residents, Susan Hess, had argued for the courts to overturn the rezoning, saying members of the City Council weren’t impartial and acted in a quasi-judicial manner rather than legislative in approving the rezoning.

The Iowa Supreme Court relied on its rulings in previous cases to side with the City Council, saying the council’s rezoning decision did not weigh the legal rights of one party versus the other.

“The council weighed all of the information, reports, and comments available to it in order to determine whether rezoning was in the best interest of the city as a whole,” Justice Bruce Zager wrote.

An attorney for the city, Doug Henry, said the Iowa Supreme Court ruling settles the matter and clears any hurdles to building the baseball complex.

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