Follow the Rules or Lose #217! Name the right person when you go to court.

In the published decision of Acevedo v City of Kenshoa, Linda Acevedo began operating a day care center, which violated the Kenosha zoning ordinance. When the city zoning department became aware of the violation, it ordered her to stop. She appealed to the City of Kenosha Zoning Board of Appeals, which affirmed her violation. She sought certiorari review in court, naming the City of Kenosha as the defendant. The City moved to dismiss, arguing that the Zoning Board of Appeals, not the City was the property party. Although Acevedo was able to show that other cases very similar to hers had been handled by courts when cities, not boards, were named as defendants, the Appeals Court noted that the issue of who was the proper defendant had not been raised in those cases, and thus had not been decided. In reviewing the plain language of the law, the court said it was clear that the correct defendant would be the Board, not the City. Thus the Court never reached the merits of Acevedo’s case. Although this may seem to be a rather harsh technicality, it does continue a long tradition of courts being careful to make sure the proper defendant is sued, and sloppiness in naming a defendant can lead to dismissal.

Felony Criminal Process Client Guide

This is a broad outline of the felony criminal process. Please note, each case is different and presents distinct circumstances, opportunities, and challenges.

General Issues On Court Appearance

You must be on time for all court appearances. If you are not on time, there could be a warrant for your arrest and additional charges against you. Often, we must discuss some concerns before the hearing. Therefore, to ensure that you will be on time and prepared, you should be at the courthouse at least 15 minutes before the time your case is scheduled.

You should show up for court dressed in “court appropriate” clothing. (Men) You should at least wear a clean collared shirt and slacks. If you are comfortable wearing a suit and tie, that is preferred. (Women) You should at least wear a clean blouse and slacks. If you are comfortable wearing a dress or skirt, that is preferred. Jeans and T-shirts should be avoided. No shorts, tank tops, sandals, flip-flops or similar items. Hats, gum, food or drink are not allowed in a courtroom. You should turn off your cell phone or pager, or better yet, leave it in the car.

When addressing the judge, be polite and courteous. Do not interrupt the judge or speak aggressively. Remember, the court reporter must record everything you say. Answer the judge clearly with responses such as “Yes, sir/ma’am/judge/your honor.” Do not use slang, profanity or words such as “uh huh,” “nah uh,” and so on.

Bond Hearing

If the police arrested you and you are still in jail, you are entitled to a “bond” hearing. This hearing is very limited. At the hearing, the judge will set bond, the amount of money you need to pay, or conditions you need to follow to be released while your case goes through the court process. A “signature bond” allows your release without paying the amount of bond ordered if you follow the rules for release set by the court. The judge will also schedule the case for further hearings. At the bond hearing, the judge will not determine your guilt or innocence, rule on any issues of police conduct, or dismiss the charges. A bond hearing will generally last about 10 minutes.

In determining the amount and conditions of bond, judges look at several factors. Judges usually give the most weight to your prior criminal history and the severity of the charges. Judges try to set bond at a level that will ensure you appear for court and don’t commit further wrongdoing. If you fail to follow the conditions set by the judge, your bond can be forfeited (with a signature bond, a judgment for the amount of the bond can be entered against you), you will likely return to jail, and an additional felony charge (bail jumping) will be filed against you.

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Family Farm Protected by Wisconsin Supreme Court Decision

A dairy farm included a 300-acre parcel desirable for residential and commercial development. The farmers obtained financing for their dairy operation from a private individual. He persuaded them to sign an Option to Purchase, which gave him the right to purchase the entire 300-acre parcel for $300,000, an amount well below market value. The financier later asserted that, due to his financial assistance, he owned a one-half interest in the land. He demanded the farmers sign a deed transferring that interest. The farmers refused.

The financier sued the farmers, seeking to enforce the Option. The farmers sought Bakke Norman’s assistance to present their claim that the financier used fraud to get them to sign the Option. We commenced a second lawsuit against the financier stating the farmers were the sole owners of the 300-acre parcel and requesting damages for the fraudulent misrepresentations the financier made to persuade them to sign the Option.

The financier’s lawsuit went to trial first. After about two weeks of testimony, the judge ruled the farmers were the sole owners of the land and that the Option was of no effect. Later, the farmers’ case was tried. The financier raised a number of defenses, including that by electing to rescind the Option contract in the first case, the farmers could not receive money damages in the second case.

The jury found in the farmers’ favor and awarded them $774,000 in total damages. The financier appealed to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, which reversed the damage award. We asked for review by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The Supreme Court accepted the case and found in the farmers’ favor. The Supreme Court’s decision clarified important legal standards in Wisconsin in three areas: (1) whether a person can obtain both rescission of a contract and damages (“election of remedies”); (2) whether a person can bring a separate lawsuit on the same facts on which they have already been sued (“permissive vs. mandatory counterclaims”); and (3) whether damages beyond those called for in a contract can be awarded where fraud led to the signing of the contract (“the fraud in the inducement exception to the economic loss doctrine”). More importantly, the farmers’ damage verdict was reinstated, and they were able to keep their family farm.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision can be read here.

Trial Victory for Employees Facing Discrimination and Harrassment

Two female employees were experienced laborers for a water and sewer contractor. Their employer assigned them undesirable jobs, withheld safety equipment necessary to do their jobs, denied them basic hygiene needs and exposed them to unsafe work conditions. The female employees’ similarly situated male co-workers were not subjected to the same work conditions.

The female employees’ disparate treatment was not accidental; their supervisor made comments that they were receiving different and unfavorable treatment because they were women. When the employees complained about their work conditions and the harrassment they were experiencing, they were laid off and never returned to work.

The female employees sought Bakke Norman’s assistance to bring claims against the employer for gender discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation and constructive discharge. The employees sought compensation, but also punitive damages, damages designed to punish the wrongdoer.

The employees’ claims were tried over three days before a jury in the federal court for the Western District of Wisconsin. The jury found in the employees’ favor on all claims. The plaintiffs were awarded a combined total of $750,000 for compensatory and punitive damages.