Not told she had to appear, woman charged after she's tardy
DEE J. HALL
October 1, 2007
In 2003, Assistant District Attorney Paul Humphrey criminally charged a woman who was one hour late for a hearing, even after he learned from Dane County Circuit Court officials that the woman never was officially notified she had to appear. It's an action the prosecutor and his supervisor both now acknowledge was improper.
The 22-year-old woman, who had been charged with stealing $1,700 from her employer, appeared on June 4, 2003 at 2:30 p.m. for the 1:30 p.m. hearing. She made her way to the Downtown Madison courthouse after her lawyer's office notified her that the hearing had started. The Wisconsin State Journal isn't naming the woman because the bail-jumping charge filed against her by Humphrey was dismissed. Attempts to contact her were unsuccessful.
On July 21, 2003, her attorney, Robert Nagel, explained to Humphrey and Judge Gerald Nichol during a hearing that his client was never told of the earlier June 4, 2003, court date. A court clerk confirmed the defendant's notification was sent to the wrong location, according to a transcript of the proceeding.
"The point I'm trying to make is that she did not miss a court date that she had any reason to know that she should have attended," Nagel said. "And the court was aware of this. ... I also left a message for Mr. Humphrey on that same date, June 4."
The day after that hearing, on July 22, 2003, the woman was charged with felony bail jumping. In his criminal complaint, Humphrey said the woman failed to appear and that "the file shows that notice was given of a court date on June 4, 2003."
In fact, the notice indicated the opposite: It was returned to the court file unserved.
Dane County Deputy District Attorney Judy Schwaemle, who signed the criminal complaint charging the young woman, said Humphrey drafted the complaint weeks before it was filed on July 22. She acknowledged the prosecutor should have investigated the reason for the woman's non-appearance before charging her — and once he learned it, should've stopped the charge from being issued. Felony bail jumping carries a maximum sentence of six years and a $10,000 fine.
"It is not the policy of this office to file bail jumping charges for people who are late for court," Schwaemle said. "Bail-jumping charges should not be filed unless there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime occurred. It does not appear there was evidence beyond a reasonable doubt here."
She insisted Humphrey's actions weren't intentional because, "I can't see him (Humphrey) doing that." Court records show Humphrey withdrew the complaint on July 31.
But Nagel believes Humphrey knew the charge was unwarranted but filed it anyway.
"This was a deliberate effort to charge a citizen with a crime he (Humphrey) knew she didn't commit," the attorney said.
Humphrey's attorney, Lester Pines, said the prosecutor has acknowledged he made a "mistake" in charging the woman. She pleaded no contest to the embezzlement charge and was placed on probation.
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