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Etc.: Dis/mistrust
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I have seen enough public-sector project groundbreakings over the years to discern two rules.

First: Everyone who speaks takes some part of the credit for the project’s moving forward. Second: The naysayers who opposed the project, or don’t think it will succeed, don’t show up. 

With all due respect to those saying nice things at the groundbreaking as reported on page 1 of this week’s edition of your favorite weekly newspaper, most of those people weren’t there during the three years of work to get to Friday afternoon. All but a couple of Platteville aldermen weren’t there during all the closed-session meetings that took place before the developer’s agreement was hammered out. Public–private partnerships 1, open government 0.

If the Library Block is on the west side of South Chestnut Street, then the project across the street should be called the “Pizza Block,” and the development going on at the former Pioneer Ford Sales site should be called the “Ford Block.” It is interesting to note that the recent online comments on The Journal’s Facebook page about the Library Block, the Pizza Block and the Ford Block have been uniformly negative, including parking and tearing-down of buildings some would consider historic and others merely old. There seems to be a lack of confidence in the decision-making ability of the Common Council, or perhaps growing skepticism given that what was touted as one thing — a library for $1 per year — becomes something else — a library for $220,000 a year.

It may seem strange to segue to the story on page 3A this week about how Wisconsin attorneys rank Wisconsin’s circuit judges — in two local cases well, and in two local cases not so well. One of the judges ranked well is not ranked so well in the opinion of someone who wanted to opine about a man sentenced to prison last week, as you can read elsewhere on this page.

Part of my skepticism about the attorney survey is that it’s anonymous, and social media proves that anyone can say anything anonymously, but that’s not how it works in person. I also wonder how many attorneys rank certain judges negatively because they keep losing in that judge’s courtroom; after all, the prosecution usually wins in criminal cases, although criminal cases are actually not even half of what happens in a courtroom.

The survey did not include retired Lafayette County Circuit Judge William Johnston, who has to be able to retire the local record for substitution requests. In both of the murder trials I covered in that courthouse — Armin and Jeremy Wand and Jaren Kuester — there was an almost immediate substitution request, meaning that, in the Wands’ case, Green County Circuit Judge Thomas Vale, and in Kuester’s case Dane County Circuit Judge C. William Foust, conducted most of those trials. 

I assume the requests meant Johnston was considered a judge to avoid according to defense attorneys. (Which is interesting, because Johnston’s most famous case wasn’t a criminal case; it was an insurance case in which $64 billion was at stake. Johnston was the state’s leading judge for insurance delinquency cases.) One attorney interviewed in 2010 said Johnston was substituted so often because he knew the defendants from previous cases.

Johnston wasn’t a district attorney before becoming a judge, unlike former Grant County Circuit Judge Richard Orton, considered by defense attorneys to be the second prosecutor in his courtroom. The first prosecutor in the courtroom in many of those trials was Grant County District Attorney John Wagner, who then replaced Orton on the bench. Grant County for decades had the former district attorney as one judge and someone from the defense bar as the other judge. However, current Circuit Judges Craig Day and Robert VanDeHey were both defense attorneys becoming judges, which may be why some believe the two are lenient in sentencing. (That opinion probably depends on whether or not you’re a defendant.)

The usual answer to a leniency accusation is that outside observers don’t know everything that goes into a sentence, which, based on the letter-writer’s account, is the summation of the encounter between Day and the letter-writer. Assuming the letter-writer’s account is accurate, that is a disturbing change not because of an inappropriate sentence, but because every single one of us has “skin in the game,”  (1) since our tax dollars fund the law enforcement and criminal justice systems, and (2) because we deserve to live in safety and not be victimized by people whose criminal records take up four typewritten pages.

Related to safety is the recent Gallup Poll that reports that terrorism is ranked as the number one problem facing the U.S., and that confidence in the federal government’s ability to protect Americans from terrorism has reached a new low. The difference between “distrust” and “mistrust” is that “mistrust” is, according to The Grammarist, “a general sense of unease,” while “distrust” is based on experience.