Some of Humphrey's questionable cases
September 28, 2007
While he is praised for his hard work, Dane County Assistant District Attorney Paul Humphrey has been the target of allegations of dishonesty, overly aggressive tactics and faulty judgment. Here are some of the cases in which Humphrey's actions have been questioned:
Type of case: Animal neglect
What happened: Humphrey authorized seizure of horses, which were sold to those pushing for prosecution
What the record shows: The Humane Society eventually paid a $97,500 settlement.
A 45-year-old Madison woman was charged with 16 misdemeanor counts for allegedly neglecting her fiance's horses. Authorities seized the nine racehorses which were later adopted by some of the officials involved in the seizure, including the Humane Society officer, her friends and the veterinarian who declared them neglected. Some of them resold the horses at a profit. In 1996, the Humane Society agreed to pay retired educator Hugh Porter $97,500 for the improperly handled seizure. Both Porter and the woman — who pleaded no contest to avoid a lengthy prison sentence — vigorously denied the horses were maltreated.
Humphrey defended the prosecution but now admits he should've kept closer track of who got the horses.
Full story coming Wednesday.
Type of case: Bail jumping
What happened: Humphrey allowed the wrong man to stay in jail for a month.
What the record shows: Humphrey was notified several times of the mistake.
Humphrey kept 18-year-old Kenneth Bell in the Dane County Jail for a month, even though he was repeatedly notified by authorities that it was Kenneth's brother, Aziel, who was sought on an arrest warrant.
Humphrey doesn't deny the wrong man may have been in jail but said any mistakes he made were unintentional. "Just because I'm wrong, doesn't mean I'm a crook," he said.
Full story coming Tuesday
Case: Vehicular homicide
What happened: Humphrey is accused of withholding evidence and lying about it.
What the record shows: Humphrey withheld crucial crash-scene photos and made misleading statements about other evidence.
Seventeen-year-old Adam Raisbeck was charged with homicide by negligent operation of a motor vehicle after he missed a curve near Marshall and rolled his car. His friend, Jerry Pageloff, 33, died, and Andre Ross, 16, was injured. Humphrey alleged Raisbeck was driving nearly 89 miles an hour. The speed supported Humphrey's charge of negligent homicide, but documents and interviews indicate that Humphrey's own expert had told him the speed estimate was too high.
After a more than 3 1/2-year prosecution, Raisbeck, who had no drugs or alcohol in his system and who didn't remember the crash, was acquitted in 2005. In the years leading up to the 2005 trial, judges who handled the case and defense attorney Joseph Sommers repeatedly charged the prosecutor made misleading statements and withheld evidence, including crucial crash-scene photos that proved Raisbeck was going slower than alleged. Judge Paul Higginbotham said Humphrey "played very fast and loose, if not recklessly, with the true facts."
Humphrey has admitted he made mistakes during the prosecution. He also acknowledged withholding a witness statement he should've turned over, but he denied his other actions broke the rules. A hearing referee for the state Supreme Court found Humphrey committed three acts of misconduct. A decision on a possible reprimand or other penalty is pending.
Case: Contempt of court
What happened: Humphrey charged two potential witnesses for failing to appear for a trial.
What the record shows: The trial wasn't held.
Humphrey charged Monica Williams, 26, and Armando Ruiz, 25, with contempt of court for not showing up as witnesses for a trial that wasn't held. The morning of the July 19, 2001 trial, their friend, defendant James Frutiger, told them he'd reached a deal with Humphrey and they didn't need to testify. Two weeks later, Humphrey charged the two with misdemeanor contempt of court. Ruiz pleaded guilty as part of a deal involving other criminal charges, but Williams' case dragged on for four years. The State Journal found Humphrey kept the case alive for two years after District Attorney Brian Blanchard ordered him to drop it. The case finally was dismissed in 2005.
Humphrey defended the prosecution, saying he thought the two witnesses skipped out and had not been notified by the court of the cancelled trial.
Case: Animal abuse
What happened: Humphrey charged hatchery worker for killing cat.
What the record shows: State law allows hatchery managers to kill animals that threaten or harass the fish.
A Department of Natural Resources worker was charged with animal cruelty for killing a feral cat that had bitten him and had been harassing the fish at the Nevin Fish Hatchery in Fitchburg. Humphrey pursued the case even though Wisconsin law specifically allows hatchery managers to kill animals that threaten fish. After a public outcry, Humphrey dismissed the case.
Case: Vehicular homicide
What happened: Humphrey accused defendant of speeding before fatal crash. After seven months in jail, the defendant pleaded guilty.
What the record shows: Police had informed Humphrey of tests indicating she was driving under the speed limit.
Maria Ledezma Martinez, 24, accidentally ran down and killed a German tourist crossing the street near the Capitol. At her preliminary hearing, Humphrey charged Ledezma Martinez was speeding at 30 miles an hour when she hit Greta Merz. But days before the hearing, police videotaped a reenactment indicating Ledezma Martinez could have been driving no faster than 20 miles an hour — under the speed limit. For months, Humphrey denied the videos existed and contended the measurements of the crash scene had been thrown away. The defense attorney in the case said Humphrey turned over most of the evidence only after his client agreed to plead guilty. She spent about nine months in the Dane County Jail and was deported to Mexico.
Humphrey and his supervisor, Deputy District Attorney Judy Schwaemle, strongly defended the prosecution, insisting Ledezma Martinez was negligent and Humphrey had no obligation to reveal the lower speed estimate in the early stages of the case. Humphrey also said he was unaware that the measurements had been misplaced in a police locker.
Blanchard said it would be important to know when Humphrey was notified of the slower speed. Humphrey said he doesn't remember. The Office of Lawyer Regulation is investigating.
Case: Bail jumping
What happened: Humphrey charged woman for being late for court hearing.
What the record shows: She hadn't been officially notified of the time.
Humphrey charged a 22-year-old woman with a felony for arriving one hour late for a hearing that Humphrey knew she hadn't been notified she had to attend. Schwaemle and Humphrey have both acknowledged the prosecution was a mistake. The charge was dismissed.
Case: Arrest warrant
What happened: Humphrey sought arrest of possible witness for missing trial date.
What the record shows: Trial had been postponed.
Humphrey swore out a warrant against a witness in the Raisbeck case, 18-year-old Kevin McCoy, for not showing up for Raisbeck's trial, even though the trial had been postponed. Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard later privately reprimanded Humphrey for having McCoy arrested and for withholding a statement McCoy had made to police. Blanchard removed Humphrey from the Raisbeck case in early 2004, citing those actions as "abuses of your authority."
Humphrey said McCoy was reluctant to testify against Raisbeck and he assumed he had skipped out when he didn't show up for the October 2003 trial.
Case: Disorderly conduct
What happened: Humphrey was ordered to comply with rules on disclosing evidence to the defense.
What the record shows: He didn't comply.
Judge Diane Nicks dismissed a misdemeanor case against a 17-year-old Black Earth teen-ager after she found that Humphrey had made "misleading statements" to defense attorney Paul F.X. Schwartz that he was ready to go to trial. On the morning of the jury draw, Humphrey admitted he wasn't prepared. Humphrey also failed to turn over to the defense information on how to contact the victim, even after Nicks had ordered him to do it. She granted Schwartz's motion to drop the case, telling Humphrey his actions in the case were "egregious."
Case: Failure to pay child support
What happened: Humphrey charged a man who had skipped child support payments
What the record shows: The man was bankrupt, in part because of another child's medical expenses. He was current in his payments when convicted.
Humphrey charged a Chicago father with seven felony counts for failing to pay $2,846 in child support for his 17-year-old daughter. Defense attorney Mark Frank said Anthony Williams, 36, fell behind during "two bad years" when his wife left him and he declared bankruptcy in the face of mounting medical bills from his stepdaughter's back surgery. The mother and girl herself pleaded for leniency for Williams, who had caught up to his payments during the prosecution. Humphrey refused to consider anything less than a felony, Frank said, and a jury convicted Williams on all seven counts.
Dane County Circuit Judge James Martin blasted Humphrey and sentenced Williams to a few months of probation and a token fine. "This was a prosecution solely because you could," Martin railed at Humphrey. "It took no prosecutorial discretion. It took no thought at all. It was simply, 'I can go after them, I can get them, and I'm going to do it, and in the process I'm really going to damage him...He's paid in full. He's done everything that he's been asked to do. The only thing that you've done is scar him for life."
During sentencing, Humphrey argued that "This was a case where the system actually did work," adding that the prosecution forced Williams to "take responsibility financially for his child."
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