Court moves Jensen retrial to Waukesha - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Court moves Jensen retrial to Waukesha

MADISON (WKOW) -- The Wisconsin Supreme Court decidedly unanimously a retrial of former state assembly speaker Scott Jensen must take place in Waukesha County, a victory for Jensen in a criminal case nearly eight years old.

Jensen wanted the proceedings moved to Waukesha under a 2007 state law that allows elected officials to be tried in their home counties for ethics violations, hoping the move would set him up for an acquittal.

A Dane County judge and an appeals court previously ruled the trial should again happen in Madison.

The high court's 6-0 decision is just the latest twist for Jensen, who has spent years fighting charges that he illegally used state workers to help Republicans build their majority in the Assembly.

It means a prosecutor unfamiliar with the case's eight-year history takes over the case and will have to convince 49-year-old Jensen's former constituents of his guilt. 

A Dane County jury convicted Jensen, a Republican who represented Waukesha County for 14 years, on three felony counts of misconduct in office and a misdemeanor ethics violation in 2006. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison but was allowed to remain free during his appeal.

An appeals court in 2007 threw out the felony convictions and granted him a new trial, saying he should have been allowed to present testimony that Democrats also had long used legislative aides as campaign workers.

Writing for a four-member majority, Justice Patience Roggensack said the state's allegations against Jensen relate to his "official functions" and involve elections, two categories of actions covered by the venue provision.

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley concurred in a separate opinion, saying "the Legislature intended this result" when the law was passed.

Justice David Prosser, a character witness at Jensen's trial in 2006, didn't participate. Prosser was the Assembly speaker when Jensen was a Republican staffer in the 1980s and he testified that Jensen was honorable.

Lawmakers included the home county provision in the law creating the Government Accountability Board as an independent watchdog agency. Prosecutors had argued the provision applied only to investigations started by the board, which did not exist during Jensen's alleged misconduct.

Critics say the provision gives preferential treatment to lawmakers because most other suspected crimes are tried in the counties where they allegedly happened.

"They passed a law that created a home court advantage for legislators,"   Executive director Mike McCabe of the watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign told WKOW27 News.

"(Supreme Court Justices) retroactively applying this law to this case, even though it wasn't on the books when Scott Jensen was charged.   It wasn't on the books when he was convicted."

McCabe said if Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel enters into plea negotiations with Jensen, any deal should include a felony.   Schimel did not immediately return a phone message.

The decision was a loss for outgoing Dane County Attorney Brian Blanchard, who prosecuted Jensen and had fought to have his office retain jurisdiction of the case. Blanchard was elected last month to join a state appeals court in August, which meant he likely would not have personally handled the second trial.

Blanchard told WKOW27 News he will be available to help Schimel until Blanchard becomes a judge.

Blanchard's prosecution involved assistance from the state justice department.   Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has said he feels the Jensen case should be resolved in a plea bargain.

The corruption probe that ensnared Jensen also took down Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala, D-Madison, Sen. Brian Burke, D-Milwaukee, co-chairman of the powerful Joint Finance Committee, Assembly Majority Leader Steve Foti, R-Oconomowoc, and Rep. Bonnie Ladwig, R-Racine. All but Jensen reached plea deals.

Jensen resigned from the Legislature after his conviction and has worked as a consultant for the Alliance for School Choice, which promotes school vouchers.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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