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Dispute Continues Over Sex Offender Placement

Issue Date: August 23, 2017

The dispute between Wisconsin Department of Health and Marinette County over placement of violent sex offenders into supervised living arrangements in a house on Seventh Road in the Town of Pound continued on Tuesday, Aug 22 at a hearing before Judge James Morrison in Marinette County Circuit Court.

On Monday, Aug. 7, Marinette County Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison had filed a petition for an injunction and restraining order to prevent placement of sex offenders into the Town of Pound residence, and Judge Morrison had issued a temporary restraining order until the hearing could be conducted.

An Outagamie County Circuit Court Judge had ordered placement of Aristole Farmer in the Seventh Road home, and that issue also was the subject of a hearing there on Monday, Aug. 21. The judge in that case was expected to issue a verbal decision at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 23 on a Town of Pound request for intervention. Town of Pound officials contend they weren't notified in advance of the prior Outagamie County Circuit Court proceedings.

At the Aug. 22 hearing in the Marinette County Courthouse the Wisconsin Department of Health was represented by Atty. Karla Zahorik Keckhaver of the Department of Justice in Madison and the county was represented by Mattison.

Keckhaver argued that the injunction request should be dismissed because notice had been improperly served on Department of Justice officials rather than those in the Department of Health.

At previous hearings, the Department of Health was represented by Department of Justice attorneys.

There were about a dozen persons in the courtroom for the hearing on Tuesday.

Morrison summarized the case, including Keckhaver's objections that the Department of Health was not properly served, "and perhaps more substantiative, that Marinette County Circuit Court does not have authority over another county circuit court," specifically the Outagamie County Circuit Court decision made by Judge Gage as one of his last acts before retiring.

Mattison explained she had personally called the Department of Justice to verify that they received the documents, and commented that was probably an error. She should have had her secretary call so she could testify as to the conversation. Mattison said she had receipts from the Department of Justice dated Aug. 10 that they had received the documents.

Keckhaver said there seemed to have been some miscommunication. She said the documents needed to be received by personal service, and should have been delivered to the Department of Health, not the Department of Justice.

Morrison pointed out that if he granted dismissal on that basis Mattison would go downstairs and immediately order the papers served on the Department of Health, and he would promptly issue another injunction. However, Keckhaver would not yield on that point, and eventually Morrison did just that, again with the caveat that he would again immediately approve the temporary restraining order.

Keckhaver said Marinette County was suing the wrong person, they should sue the judge in Outagamie County. Morrison noted a judge in Jefferson County has now also ordered placement of a violent sex offender into the Town of Pound residence, and asked, "How do we ever get to the nub of this problem?"

Mattison reminded the court that on July 26 Judge Morrison hd ruled that the Town of Pound residence did not meet the criteria required of a home for supervised sex offenders. Morrison said not only that, it also did not meet the needs of Jeffrey Butler, the specific offender he was asked to rule on.

Mattison noted on May 15, Judge Gage in Outagamie County signed an order giving Marinette County and the Town of Pound 90 days to either accept Farmer or find another suitable residence for him, but that order was never filed. Then on June 23 Gage issued the ruling stating that Marinette County had been identified as the county of intended placement on May 15. She repeated that the order was never filed, and neither the county nor the town ever had the 90 days' notice.

Keckhaver objected that she did not have copies of the decisions Mattison was referring to.

Judge Morrison had ruled on July 26 that the Town of Pound house was not a residential facility under definitions of Wisconsin statutes, a ruling that conflicts with the orders from Outagamie and Jefferson County Circuit Court judges. Mattison said she understands the Department of Justice intends to appeal Morrison's finding, and argued that an injunction should be ordered until that issue is settled. Morrison agreed it will probably go to Appellate court. "At some point we are going to have to get to the point of does that house meet the statutory requirements set in the law that went into effect on Jan. 1 of 2006."

He said a complicating factor "is this pesky little thing called jurisdiction," and in Wisconsin circuit court judges do not have the right to review the decisions of other circuit court judges.

"It's easy for a judge in Outagamie or Jefferson County to say let's place them in Marinette County," Judge Morrison commented. "I understand the Department of Justice gave Ms. Mattison bad information (as to the service of notice)." He added, and repeated that was a technical error, easily and quickly corrected. "If I grant your motion to dismiss, this is not over," Morrison told Keckhaver. "I'm just trying to be sensible."

Several times during the proceedings Morrison said he was trying to prevent wasting the time of everyone involved. Mattison noted the placement of Farmer into the town of Pound residence had only been delayed until Saturday, Aug. 26, and whatever the Outagamie Court judge decides on Wednesday would determine what she had to do next.

"I trust that nobody in this room would do anything dishonorable," Morrison commented. He dismissed the injunction with the understanding that it would be promptly replaced with another temporary restraining order, and with the understanding that neither Farmer nor anyone else is to be placed in the Town of Pound residence until the restraining order is lifted. "I understand that this is a big problem for everybody," he agreed, and advised Keckhaver to tell her client, "Let's try to do this in a sensible way."


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