Madison — Former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen should be retried for misconduct in office in Waukesha County, a unanimous state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The court overturned an appeals court decision and ruled the trial should be held where Jensen lives and not in Dane County, the seat of state government and the location of Jensen's alleged crimes.
Justice David Prosser, who served with Jensen in the Assembly and testified on his behalf in the initial trial, did not participate in Thursday's decision.
Jensen, a Town of Brookfield Republican, was charged in October 2002 with running campaigns with state resources. Four other legislative leaders from both parties were charged around the same time.
All but Jensen accepted plea agreements. He was convicted in a 2006 trial of three felonies and one misdemeanor, but the felony convictions were overturned on appeal, in part because he was barred from testifying about how politics and policy-making intersect in the Capitol. His retrial was put on hold while he argued the case should be moved to Waukesha County.
Dane County has some of the most Democratic voting patterns in the state, while Waukesha County is a base for Republicans.
Sherry Schultz, a former Jensen aide, was convicted of one felony alongside Jensen in 2006. Her conviction also was overturned, and she was to be retried with Jensen. That won't happen now because Schultz lives in Dane County.
"This now means two trials. One in Dane County for Sherry Schultz and one in Waukesha County for Scott Jensen involving the same witnesses and evidence," Democratic Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard said.
Blanchard was elected in April to the District 4 Court of Appeals and will take his seat on the bench in August.
He pledged to work with Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel, a Republican, to bring him up to speed on the case.
Schimel said he and another attorney would have to devote an "extraordinary amount of time" to the case.
"It is going to overwhelm us, but . . . the law says it comes to me, so it comes to me," he said.
He said he had no way of knowing if the case would result in a plea agreement.
Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, railed against the decision and said it would make it easier for Jensen to secure a favorable plea agreement.
"Ninety-nine point nine percent of the people in Wisconsin don't get treated the way Scott Jensen got treated," McCabe said.
Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, said he was not concerned about the trial being moved.
"I don't think a jury in Waukesha County . . . is going to judge the facts any differently than a Dane County jury did in 2006," he said.
Law revised in 2007
Usually, trials are held where crimes are alleged to have occurred, but the Legislature rewrote the law in 2007 to say politicians charged with ethics violations will be tried in their home counties.
Jensen invoked that law in a court filing the day the law took effect. A Dane County judge and appeals court ruled against him, but the Supreme Court disagreed.
Prosecutors argued that law applies only to those who are first investigated by the Government Accountability Board, which oversees the state's ethics and elections laws. The agency didn't exist when the investigation of Jensen was launched.
Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, whose office has helped prosecute the case, has said it should be resolved with a plea agreement. Special Assistant Attorney General Kevin St. John declined to say Thursday whether Van Hollen would provide Schimel with assistance on the case.
The other lawmakers charged in 2002 accepted plea agreements. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala (D-Madison) was convicted of two felonies, former Sen. Brian Burke (D-Milwaukee) was convicted of one felony and one misdemeanor, and former Assembly Majority Leader Steve Foti (R-Oconomowoc) and former Rep. Bonnie Ladwig (R-Pleasant Prairie) each were convicted of one misdemeanor.
Jason Stein of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.