High court denies juvenile's appeal

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012
— By a 4-2 vote, the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a 2010 decision by Walworth County Judge James Carlson to accept a waiver investigation report in the case of a 15-year-old boy accused of armed robbery who was waived into adult court.

The defendant, identified as Tyler T., was accused of being a party to the June 19, 2009, armed robbery of a gas station in Elkhorn.

The Walworth County District Attorney's office asked Carlson to waive Tyler into adult court. Carlson requested a waiver investigation report from the Walworth County Department of Health and Human Services.

The department, as part of its work to prepare the report, held a meeting with staff and Walworth County Assistant District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld, who advocated for the waiver into adult court. Neither Tyler nor his attorney was asked to attend the meeting.

At the meeting, the DHHS staff could not come to a consensus, and it filed the report without a recommendation. Carlson granted the prosecution's request for a waiver into adult court.

Attorneys for Tyler appealed Carlson's ruling to the District 2 Court of Appeals. They argued the prosecutor's participation at the DHHS meeting compromised the report's objectivity. The appeals court denied Tyler's appeal, and the case then was appealed to the Supreme Court.

"We conclude that the circuit court did not err in denying Tyler's request to strike the waiver investigation report prepared by the DHHS," wrote state Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler for the majority. "While we have reservations about the DHHS's decision to invite only the assistant district attorney to its final staffing meeting, we decline to create a bright-line rule precluding the DHHS from communicating directly with either party."

The majority elaborated on its reservations.

"Inviting only one party to a final staffing meeting creates a perception of imbalanced information, a perception which may prove inaccurate," Ziegler wrote.

Ziegler concluded, however, that the DHHS "is free to compile information for a waiver investigation report in the manner it deems most beneficial to the circuit court."

In her dissent, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley accused the majority of equivocating.

"Expressing reservations about the department's procedure, it (the majority) acknowledges that such a procedure creates a perception if imbalanced information," she said. "Ultimately, however, it answers the question with a halfhearted 'No.'

"Because I conclude that the prosecuting attorney's ex-parte advocacy at the department's decision-making meeting was improper, and because I cannot determine that Tyler suffered no prejudice as a result, I respectfully dissent."

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson joined Bradley in her dissent. Justice David Prosser did not participate in the decision.

The court's decision did not indicate what, if any, future court activity might occur.

Last updated: 8:18 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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