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November 20, 2019

9/21/2019 7:30:00 AM
Drug possession trial postponed
Crime lab analyst unavailable

Jamie Taylor
River News Reporter

The trial of a 33-year-old School District of Rhinelander elementary school teacher charged with a drug-related felony has been rescheduled to the end of October due to the unavailability of a crime lab analyst who will be called to testify.

Fourth grade teacher Anthony J. Klein was charged March 27 with one count of possession of narcotic drug, two counts of possession of a controlled substances and two counts of possession of an illegally obtained prescription after he was allegedly found in a "very lethargic" state at a Rhinelander gas station.

The original charges also included two additional counts of possession of an illegally obtained prescription, but those counts were dismissed in an amended complaint filed April 11.

The amended complaint charged Klein with one count of possession of narcotic drugs, a class I felony, and one misdemeanor count of possession of a controlled substances.

At a pre-trial conference Aug. 13, Klein's attorney Maggie Hogan told judge Patrick O'Melia that Klein had rejected a plea offer from assistant district attorney Jillian Pfeifer and was requesting a trial.

A trial date of Feb. 19 was set, however Hogan filed a demand for a speedy trial two days later. Because of the demand, the trial was rescheduled to Oct. 9 and 10.

At what was supposed to be a final pre-trial hearing on Sept. 11, Hogan told O'Melia her client would like to have the judge hear the case rather than a jury. She said a waiver of the jury trial would be filed the morning of Oct. 9. District attorney Michael Schiek, who was sitting in for Pfeifer during the hearing, requested that another status conference be scheduled.

On Tuesday, the case took another turn as Pfeifer told O'Melia she had learned that a crime lab analyst listed as a witness for the Klein case would most likely not be able to testify on either date due to other trials ranking higher in priority.

Because of the speedy trial request, O'Melia is required to hold the trial within a certain number of days. After scouring his calendar, he was able to reschedule the trial for Oct. 28 and 29.

Because Pfeifer did not consent to waiving the jury trial, the case would be decided by a jury, he added.

According to the original criminal complaint, a gas station clerk called law enforcement on March 26 to report there was "a very lethargic male customer" in a vehicle outside the store.

When police arrived on scene they made contact with Klein, who explained that he was headed to a colleague's house "for work stuff." The officer also described Klein as appearing drowsy and noted he responded slowly to commands.

Klein denied having had anything to drink but when asked about other substances he told the officer, "Well...I ...kinda took my prescription" speaking in a "very drawn out manner," the deputy wrote in his report. 

After Klein failed field sobriety tests, the deputy placed him under arrest for suspicion of operating while intoxicated. During a search pursuant to the arrest, officers found a prescription pill bottle on his person, the complaint states.

According to the complaint, the pills in the bottle included a Schedule II opioid narcotic as well as other controlled substances. 

According to the School District of Rhinelander website, Klein has been teaching in the Rhinelander district for six years and was based at Central Elementary at the time of his arrest.

District superintendent Kelli Jacobi told the River News Klein was placed on paid administrative leave after district officials learned of the arrest.

When the district began its teacher renewal process for the 2019-20 school year, it was recommended that Klein's contract not be renewed.

Klein appealed to the school board, which discussed the matter May 13.

After coming out of closed session, the board voted to renew the contract 4-2.

Board member David Holperin, Ann Munninghoff Eshelman, Ben Roskoskey and Ron Lueneburg voted "aye" while Judy Conlin and Ron Counter voted "nay," according to meeting minutes the River News obtained after filing an open records request. Mary Peterson, Mike Roberts and Duane Frey were absent from the meeting.

The notice of contract renewal states that Klein would teach at Pelican Elementary School in the upcoming school year, but on Tuesday, Jacobi confirmed that he is still on paid administrative leave until the criminal case has run its course. Another teacher was hired to fill the Pelican position for the 2019-20 school year, she said.

"If/when he is able to return to work, we will make a determination regarding his position," Jacobi said in an email statement.

She also said that if Klein were convicted of the felony charge, the school board would likely vote to either revoke his contract or terminate his employment with the district.

Another status conference in the case is set for Oct. 2.

Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at jamie@rivernews

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