Wisconsin Court Orders New Trial in Farmer, Warden Standoff

By TODD RICHMOND, Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A farmer who got into a wrestling match with conservation wardens that ended in an armed standoff deserves a new trial, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The high court ruled 4-2 that Robert Stietz's version of events provides enough facts to justify a self-defense argument, and the jury that convicted him should have been instructed on that argument.

According to court documents, Stietz was looking for trespassers on his Lafayette County property as the sun was setting on the last day of the gun deer season in November 2012. He was 64 years old at the time and was carrying a rifle as well as a handgun. He was wearing camoflauge but no blaze orange.

Two state Department of Natural Resources wardens noticed his car in a field and stopped to investigate. The three men encountered one another on Stietz's property.

The wardens were wearing blaze orange jackets with DNR insignia and badges on them, but it was almost dark and Stietz testified he didn't notice their clothing and took them for trespassers. He added that the wardens never clearly identified themselves, although he heard one of them mumble the word "warden."

When Stietz told them he was looking for trespassers and wasn't hunting, the wardens became agitated. He testified that one of them twice asked for his rifle, making him feel as if he was being attacked.

One of the wardens grabbed his coat and reached for the rifle. The three men grappled over the rifle, pointing the barrel every which way. Eventually the wardens wrestled the weapon free. The warden who ended up with the gun fell to the ground, then threw the weapon away.

The wardens then drew their handguns, prompting Stietz to pull his. He said he thought, "My God, he's going to shoot," and that he told the wardens he had a right to protect himself. A standoff ensued. Stietz finally realized the men were wardens when one radioed for help, and he surrendered when sheriff's deputies arrived.

A jury convicted him in 2014 of resisting an officer and pointing a gun at an officer. He was sentenced to a year in prison.

Stietz argued on appeal that Lafayette County Circuit Judge James R. Beer improperly refused to instruct the jury on self-defense, robbing him of his right to present a defense in court.

The Supreme Court agreed with him. Justice Shirley Abrahamson, writing for the majority, said it's clear that a rational jury might have come to a different conclusion if they had been informed about self-defense. A reasonable jury could decide that Stietz truly believed the wardens were trespassers and that he feared for his life.

"In sum, the jury could conclude that the defendant threatened to use force as he reasonably believed necessary to prevent or terminate the interference with his person," Abrahamson wrote.

Justices Annette Ziegler and Michael Gableman dissented. Writing for both of them, Ziegler said it's a wonder the wardens didn't shoot Stietz and that his case isn't about self-defense.

She cited the wardens' testimony at trial that they clearly identified themselves, Stietz was aggressive and they became worried for their safety when Stietz wouldn't hand over his rifle. Stietz initiated the wrestling match by striking one of the wardens in the stomach with the rifle butt, they testified.

The state Department of Justice represented the wardens. Agency spokesman Johnny Koremenos called the decision disappointing. Lafayette County District Attorney Jenna Gill didn't immediately respond to a phone message inquiring about whether she will try Stietz again.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Oral Arguments: State v. Stietz

On February 15, 2017, Charles W. Giesen orally argued the case of State of Wisconsin v. Robert Stietz to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The Supreme Court briefs, co-authored by Charles and Jessica Giesen, presented the following three issues:

  1. Did the Court of Appeals deny Stietz’s federal and state constitutional rights to present a complete defense of self-defense by weighing his credibility and requiring more than “some evidence,” even if inconsistent, to support a self-defense instruction?

  2. Did the Court of Appeals deny Stietz’s federal and state constitutional rights to present a defense by forbidding arguments that Stietz was defending himself against two men he reasonably believed were armed trespassers?

  3. Did the Court of Appeals contradict the Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Hobson, 218 Wis. 2d 350, 577 N.W.2d 825 (1998), by foreclosing a self-defense claim against wardens who Stietz did not know were law enforcement officers; were not claiming to make an arrest but were only trying to disarm a man without apparent right; and were not acting peaceably in any event but were trying to violently disarm a lawfully armed man? 

A decision from the Wisconsin Supreme Court is expected in late spring.

Full video of oral arguments can be found here.

Child exploitation charge against Poynette man dropped

The Columbia County District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday dropped felony child exploitation charges against a Poynette man accused of inappropriately filming himself with a 5-year-old foster child.

“I don’t think that going forward with the felony that was originally charged in this would be beneficial to anyone — Mr. Skare, the victim, the public,” said Assistant District Attorney Cliff Burdon at the hearing. “I don’t think the things that he did that are outlined in the probable cause warrant him to be branded as a felon or as a sex offender.”

Jay Skare, 58, was charged in Jan. 2014 with sexual exploitation of a child, accused of making a sexually explicit video with a 5-year-old girl.

“Mr. Skare felt he had no choice but to do this, because she wasn’t talking to the police,” Giesen said according to court documents. “And that’s why those recordings, although they may not have mentioned Mr. Skare specifically, are important, to show she’s been groomed. Mr. Skare’s assessment of this was correct and it supports his having acted in good faith.”

Full Article Here

Giesen Law Offices Names New Partner: Jessica J. Giesen

Giesen Law Offices, S.C. announces the return of Jessica J. Giesen to the law firm as of July, where she rejoins in a new role as Vice President and Partner. Jessica left the firm in 2010 to take a position in the luxury retail industry, working for Versace and then Ralph Lauren in New York City and most recently serving as head of the North American Marketing & Public Relations departments at Triumph Motorcycles. Jessica rejoins the law practice with primary focuses on criminal defense, civil litigation and family law. Giesen Law Offices, S.C., is a full-service law firm based in downtown Madison representing individuals and businesses in a wide range of legal matters and litigation.

Charges dismissed against driver accused of hitting cyclists

A Dane County judge on Wednesday dismissed felony charges against an Oregon man who was charged with striking two bicyclists as they rode on a rural Fitchburg road last summer.

Circuit Judge William Foust said that a diagram from an accident report showing a car driven by John Dohm, 61, swerving around the cyclists, was enough to find there was insufficient probable cause to show that Dohm had committed a felony.

Full article by Ed Treleven, Wisconsin State Journal, January 28, 2016

British Consulate Celebrates Women in Business

The British Consulate-General in Atlanta is celebrating local female entrepreneurs with U.K. connections as part of its “Week of Women,” designed by the country’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office to showcase its initiatives in support of women around the world.

Consul General Jeremy Pilmore-Bedford hosted a luncheon on Friday, Oct. 30, for some 30 female entrepreneurs at his residence, an event co-organized with Theia Washington Smith, the Atlanta mayor’s director for female entrepreneurship.

The consulate throughout the week has been issuing digital profiles on its social media platforms of five influential women in business.

Among those profiled will be Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx Inc., which in 2012 became a $1 billion brand. She maintains strong ties with Virgin CEO Richard Branson, whose “Rebel Billionaire” apprentice show catapulted her to fame.

Others include:

  • Jessica Giesen, marketing director for Triumph Motorcycles’ North American operations, who is now in London helping plan the launch of a new 2016 model.

Full Article Here