Wisconsin billionaire gets brief jail term in sex assault case
After three years of pre-trial litigation that went all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court — twice — a Racine County billionaire who had been facing felony charges he sexually assaulted a girl pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors.
The victim in the case had moved to North Carolina, said she wished the case would be dismissed, and fought legal efforts to make her come to Wisconsin to testify.
Samuel Curtis "Curt" Johnson III, was charged in 2011 with indecently touching a girl when she was between ages 12 and 15. Johnson, 59, is an heir to the S.C. Johnson household products company fortune.
In a court hearing Friday, Johnson agreed to plead guilty to fourth-degree sexual assault and disorderly conduct.
Assistant District Attorney Robert Repischak asked for the maximum sentence — nine months in jail on the sexual assault, and 90 days for disorderly conduct, consecutive, to make a year in the county jail.
Michael F. Hart, one of Johnson's attorneys, said maximum terms should be reserved for "maximum defendants," repeat offenders or those who try to disrupt the prosecution of their case. Johnson, he noted, has no prior record and has led an otherwise productive life.
Circuit Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz said he was "troubled" by the state recommendation, since he's never seen prosecutors seek maximum sentences for a first-time offender before, and imposed the term the defense suggested.
Johnson was sentenced to four months in jail with Huber privileges after 60 days and fined $6,000. He will not have to register as a sex offender.
Johnson had rejected any probation sentence, something defendants can do if they think it might be a more onerous punishment.
Several of Johnson's relatives, including his mother, were present, though none spoke. The victim's mother was also present, but also made no statement to the court.
Frustrated prosecutors filed a "Justification for Amendment of Charges and Proposed Resolution" to explain the plea deal. Repischak detailed the increasing lack of cooperation by the victim and her mother, who each had separate lawyers. The girl had challenged a court proceeding to force her to come from North Carolina, where she now lives, to testify.
The charges grew out of Johnson's purported statements to his therapist in Arizona, who was required by law to report any potential child abuse to authorities. Prosecutors tried repeatedly to gain access to records of those counseling sessions. When an Arizona court compelled the records holder to bring them to Wisconsin for a private review by the Racine judge, Johnson appealed, and the issue is still pending in the Arizona Court of Appeals.
Prior to Friday's hearing, his defense had asked that the girl, now 17, be made to turn over records of her counseling sessions during the time of the alleged offenses, so that a judge could privately determine whether anything in those records might be helpful to the defense.
The case bogged down in months of legal arguments over whether the girl would be allowed to testify against Johnson even if she refused to allow a judge to see the records.
A Court of Appeals found that she could not, but last year, the Supreme Court reversed that ruling, saying the trial judge's proposal — allow her testimony but then give the jury an instruction regarding her refusal to release records — was sufficient.
But because the opinion seemed to be based on a combination of rationales, both sides asked the high court to reconsider. Johnson's attorneys argued it allowed the testimony without the records, and prosecutors argued it seemed to allow for a jury instruction about inferences in favor of the defendant.
In its second ruling, in March, the court clarified that its earlier ruling was actually a deadlock, and therefore the Court of Appeals ruling that prohibited the girl's testimony unless she allowed review of her therapy records would stand.
Without the girl's testimony, prosecutors had little chance of winning conviction at trial of such serious charges.