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November 13, 2019

9/17/2019 7:30:00 AM
Wolfe prosecutors ask for Ludwig hearing in murder case
Abigail Bostwick
Of the Lakeland Times

Prosecutors seeking to convict the last of the five men accused in the killing of a Lac du Flambeau just before Christmas 2017 are seeking a reconsideration of a hearing which would allow more time for a plea agreement.

Assistant attorneys general Richard Dufour and Chad Verbeten filed a motion for a Ludwig hearing in Iron County Circuit Court late last week,

Former Marathon County Judge Gregory Grau is presiding over the case following the passing of Judge Patrick Madden, who heard the original request for a Ludwig hearing in the homicide trial of Curtis Wolfe, 28, Lac du Flambeau.

A Ludwig hearing allows for a conversation between the judge, prosecution and defense regarding a proposed plea agreement.

The discussion is meant to explain a plea deal openly between the prosecution, defense and defendant.

According to Verbeten and Dufour's motion, "The court committed a manifest error of law ... (when) it refused to conduct a colloquy with Mr. Wolfe after the state put the settlement proposal on the record ...."

Verbeten and Dufour are therefore requesting the court reconsider and hold a complete Ludwig hearing regarding its proposed settlement plea agreement dated April 18.

That deal, as outlined at the hearing, calls for Wolfe to plead guilty to an amended charge of felony murder/aggravated battery with repeater and party to a crime modifiers, felony hiding a corpse, as party to a crime as a repeater, as well as two counts of aiding a felon as party to a crime.

Those amended charges would be the same as settled upon for co-defendant James Lussier's plea agreement, with the exception that Lussier was not charged with hiding a corpse.

Lussier, 21, Lac du Flambeau, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and 15 years of supervised release followed by eight years on probation for his part in the murder of Wayne Valliere Jr.

For Wolfe, the state and defense would have been free to argue sentencing following completion of a pre-sentence investigation.

"Settlement negotiations in Mr. Wolfe's case did not begin until after the trial of two of Mr. Wolfe's co-defendants, Richard F. A. Allen (29) and Joseph D. Lussier (28, both of Lac du Flambeau). This was at the express request of Curtis Wolfe's counsel," the motion reads.

The first settlement proposal was offered to Wolfe on Nov. 9, 2018, and was declined.

A jury trial was then scheduled to start May 13. The state filed another revised settlement offer "more favorable to Wolfe" with an April 22 deadline, based on court records.

However, the state did not hear from Wolfe or his defense attorney, so it filed a request for the Ludwig hearing in open court to explain the settlement on the record with all parties present.

That hearing took place April 30.

There, Wolfe's public defense attorney Fred Bourg objected to discussing the settlement on record, citing possible prejudice against his client should that occur. The state argued it was appropriate at the Ludwig hearing to discuss the proposal "... to ensure he ... understood the settlement proposal and it was his ... decision to accept or reject (it)."

Madden indicated he felt the Ludwig motion had been "complied with" and that Bourg had effectively conveyed the proposal to Wolfe. To inquire further "... would not be in the proper purview of the court," he added.

The prosecutors note the court "... committed a manifest error of law when it failed to conduct a colloquy with Mr. Wolfe" that day.

Verbeten and Dufour note in their motion that plea bargaining is important in cases, and while they don't doubt the defense counsel's "competence," moving forward without further plea discussion could result in a post-conviction claim - even years later - that "...stakes the defendants assertions against trial counsel's conduct ..." therefore it is "... well worth the time" to hold the hearing, they argued.

A motion hearing in the Wolfe case is currently set for Oct. 8.

Wolfe is being held in the Iron County jail on a $1 million cash bond.

Wolfe and several others - the Lussier brothers, Allen, and Evan Oungst, 29, Arbor Vitae - are said to have taken Wayne Valliere, Jr. 25, on a drug-fueled ride that ended in a remote part of the town of Mercer where he was shot several times by Allen and then Joseph Lussier in the early hours.

His body was then hidden and left. Motive remains unclear, though it has been suggested that some the defendants had some involvement in the Native Soldiers Gang and felt disrespected by Valliere. Others have cited the theft of a pipe from one of the defendants on the part of Valliere.

Allen and Joseph Lussier were sentenced to life in prison last August following a week-long jury trial.

Oungst pleaded guilty to amended charges of second degree reckless homicide plus several charges of harboring/aiding a felon and having prescription drugs before a substitute judge in Price County.

He is also being held in Iron County Jail - separated from Wolfe - and awaits sentencing Jan. 29, 2020.

He was set to have his fate determined in late September, however, his attorneys successfully argued for a later sentencing date now that the pre-sentence investigation has been completed. Prosecutors and the victim's family expressed opposition to the delay.

Evers' administration is dysfunctional on open government, group say

A review of the open government practices of Gov. Tony Evers, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, and various state agencies by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) has found what it calls a disturbing departure from best practices as defined in two executive orders issued by former Gov. Scott Walker. Without an immediate course reversal, WILL says, Evers threatens to turn Wisconsin's legacy of transparency in state government into a bureaucratic black box. The study was authored by WILL's Libby Sobic and CJ Szafir.

In 2016 and 2017, WILL states, Walker issued executive orders that directed his administration to implement best practices to bring new transparency and responsiveness to state government. The orders directed executive offices and state agencies to respond to records requests in 10 business days, keep and maintain an organized tracking system, and develop a dashboard website for the public to monitor how the administration is complying with records requests and best practices.

WILL's goal in the study was to see whether, and to what extent, the Evers administration is following the best practices outlined by Walker, the group states. To test this, WILL submitted identical open records requests to 11 offices and state agencies for tracking documents and records practices.

By the end of August, WILL received responses on 9 of the 11 requests and reviewed over 4,000 records. The study found that the system used to track records requests in Evers's office was disorganized and dysfunctional, with scores of missing data making it impossible to know whether the governor's office was complying with open government best practices. One out of three open records requests were either unfulfilled or not recorded properly.

"Unlike his predecessor Gov. Scott Walker, Gov. Tony Evers is clearly not prioritizing government transparency," said CJ Szafir, WILL's executive vice president. "This is dangerous because open government is not just an ideal but a critical tool for the public in a democracy to hold their elected officials and public employees accountable. Evers threatens to turn Wisconsin's proud legacy of transparency in state government into a bureaucratic black box."

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