Wisconsin State Journal

Judge outraged by handling of child-support case
October 2, 2007

Anthony Williams made a promise to himself as a young boy growing up in Chicago that he would never put his family through the ordeal he endured as a child, shuttling back and forth to prison to visit his father.

But beginning in 2005, Williams' promise to stay out of trouble began to unravel.

Williams was arrested by Dane County officials and charged by prosecutor Paul Humphrey with seven felony counts for falling $2,846 behind in child support for his 17-year-old daughter, Naiyma Wright. He faced up to 12? years in prison.

Humphrey argued that Williams, who earned as much as $20 an hour as a union electrician, could easily afford to make the $35-a-week payments. He pointed to repeated steps Dane County officials took to get Williams, of Chicago, to pay the required support, including suspending his driver's license, garnisheeing his tax refund and, in the end, filing criminal charges against him.

No criminal record
As the case headed toward trial, Williams, who had no criminal record, refused to plead guilty to a felony charge. He and his attorney, Mark Frank, of Madison, argued that high-paying jobs would dry up with a felony record. The jury, however, convicted Williams on all seven counts.

Open and shut case? Some didn't see it that way, including Dane County Circuit Judge James Martin.

During an Aug. 1 sentencing hearing, Williams, his daughter and the girl's mother, Nichole Wright, all pleaded with Martin to go easy on the 37-year-old father.

Williams explained that he "made a mistake" when he fell behind in his support after a divorce and thousands of dollars worth of medical bills for his stepdaughter led to bankruptcy. Frank explained that while Williams sometimes made a decent hourly wage, the employment was temporary.

"I did not want to put them (family members) through what I went through as a child," Williams told the judge, describing prison visits that began when he was 5 years old. "And now here I am in this courtroom going through the nightmare that my father went through. And I just, I just … I don't know. I just hope that the court ..."

"You don't have to say anymore," Martin interjected.

The judge then turned to Humphrey and Brad Logsdon of the Dane County Child Support Agency and said they were trying to "destroy" Williams "just because you could."

'Case morphed'
Martin noted that Williams, who also goes by the name Abdul Hakeem Rassaam, had caught up with his child support payments by the time the case went to trial.

"Somewhere along the line, we've lost sight of what child support enforcement is supposed to be about; and that is to get payment to the children, payment to the parents," Martin said. "This case morphed from that into a prosecution for felonies, not because it was needed to get payment, but because we could get seven felony convictions. We could destroy, potentially destroy, this person financially for the rest of his life."

Anthony Williams
Hakeem Rassaam, who used to go by the name Anthony Williams, was prosecuted by Dane County Assistant District Attorney Paul Humphrey for seven felony counts of failure to pay $2,846 in child support for his 17-year-old daughter. The mother and his daughter, Naiyma Wright, pleaded for leniency for the Chicago man, and Judge James Martin criticized Humphrey for allegedly trying to financially ruin the 37-year-old defendant. Humphrey defended the prosecution, saying it forced Williams to take responsibility for his daughter.

Judge James Martin
During an Aug. 1 sentencing, Dane County Circuit Judge James Martin strongly criticized prosecutor Paul Humphrey for filing seven felony counts against a man who was $2,846 behind in child support. He gave defendant Anthony Williams, who also goes by the name Hakeem Raassaam of Chicago, a token fine of less than $100 and a few months of probation, noting that by the time of trial, Williams owed nothing. Said Martin: "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.'" (State Journal file photo)
Humphrey's attorney, Lester Pines, said the judge wasn't privy to all of the plea negotiations that preceeded the trial. He said Humphrey believes both he and the jury made the right call, and that the evidence supported seven felony charges.

At sentencing, Logsdon argued that "we can't let people buy their way out of criminal prosecutions." Humphrey said the prosecution forced Williams to take financial responsibility for his daughter and that "This is a case where the system actually did work."

The judge cut him off. "The system failed. The system failed. Miserably," Martin said. Later in the hearing, the judge added: "The state dismisses all kinds of serious felonies. Every day. I signed one today that was a felony. There is no requirement that simply because it's charged it has to go forward."

Martin imposed a token fine of less than $100 for all seven counts and ordered eight months of probation — until Naiyma turns 18. Although he's grateful for the judge's supportive words and light sentence, Williams said he remains a convicted felon — the one thing he vowed never to become. He said he'd like to appeal his case, but there's no money for that.

Meanwhile, in the eyes of many, Williams said, "I am a thug."

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