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North Korean leader invites Trump to meet and Trump has agreed, South Korean official says

WASHINGTON (TNS) — President Donald Trump has accepted an extraordinary invitation by North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un to meet this spring, a senior South Korean official announced at the White House Thursday, signaling a potential diplomatic breakthrough in long-stalled efforts to end the nuclear impasse on the Korean peninsula.

Any face-to-face meeting, if it takes place, would be historic — the first ever between the leaders of two longtime adversaries that fought one bitter war and have repeatedly threatened to fight another.

Chung Eui-yong, South Korea’s national security director, said the North Korean ruler had expressed “his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible” and that Trump had agreed to do so by May.

Chung made the announcement after briefing Trump’s top national security advisers, including national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan.

Chung said he was delivering a message — apparently a signed letter from Kim — to the White House that the North Korean ruler had given him and Suh Hoon, chief of South Korean’s National Intelligence Service, earlier this week in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Trump personally hinted at the news when he made his first appearance ever in the White House briefing room Thursday afternoon and told reporters to stay around for “a major announcement” on North Korea, one that clearly met his approval.

Ever since a five-member South Korean delegation returned Tuesday from meeting Kim in Pyongyang, the tantalizing prospect of a peaceful resolution to the rising tensions in northeast Asia appeared possible, although far from certain.

The South Koreans said that Kim had offered to freeze further nuclear or ballistic missile tests while talks proceed, and to “denuclearize” if he was convinced his country faced no military threat and his dynastic regime was secure.

In a sign of the fast-moving diplomacy, Kim will meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in next month in the third-ever meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea since their war ended in an uneasy cease-fire in 1953.

Earlier this week, Trump voiced cautious optimism about talks with North Korea, saying he hoped the North Koreans were “sincere” in their offer to engage in talks. But he said he’s prepared “to go whichever path is necessary.”

Trump and Kim have traded insults and invective over the past year — “Little Rocket Man” vs. “a mentally deranged U.S. dotard” — but Trump also said he would be “honored” to meet with Kim under the right circumstances.

Other members of the administration urged caution, saying multiple diplomatic attempts to curb North Korean’s nuclear program since the early 1990s all have failed, and that Kim’s government may be seeking to get out of onerous sanctions or buy time to make a more advanced warhead.

“We’re a long ways from negotiations,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Ethiopia, where he was on a five-nation tour of Africa.

Saying the Trump administration had to be “very clear-eyed,” he said the first step would be “to have some kind of talks about talks” to set the parameters of any negotiations.

“I don’t know yet, until we are able to meet ourselves face-to-face with representatives of North Korea, whether the conditions are right to even begin thinking about negotiations,” Tillerson added.

Tillerson has long promoted diplomacy with North Korea to avoid a potential military conflict with the nuclear-armed nation.

The apparent thaw began on Jan. 1 when Kim offered to send a North Korean delegation to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February.

Vice President Mike Pence, who headed the U.S. delegation to the Olympics, had planned a secret meeting in South Korea with Kim’s younger sister. But the North Koreans canceled the meeting after Pence said the U.S. was about to impose stiff new sanctions.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

John Kelly of La Crosse takes advantage of the recently fallen snow Thursday by cross country skiing at Forest Hills Golf Course. Today's forecast calls for sunny skies with a high temperature of 37 degrees in La Crosse.

La Crosse man charged in State Street shooting convicted of bail jumping charges

A La Crosse man charged in an April shooting on State Street in La Crosse pleaded guilty Thursday to two counts of felony bail jumping for violating his curfew after reaching an agreement with prosecutors.


Six other charges, including attempted homicide and first-degree recklessly endangering safety as party to the crime, filed against Steven Brock, 19, were dismissed but will be considered by the court at sentencing on May 31.

Prosecutors agreed to recommend Brock serve probation based on his cooperation and minor role in the shooting case.

Surveillance video captured Ramon Washington firing at Monica Thompson while she was outside 1008 State St. on April 10, according to La Crosse police reports. One round pierced a bedroom window, but no one was injured.

Thompson used Facebook Live to taunt Washington, telling him to come fight her and that she was not afraid to die, according to police reports.

Washington fled the shooting with Brock, Johnathan Berlanga and Devon Yang, all of La Crosse. Police found a .25-caliber gun under Washington’s car seat.

Washington, 19, of Onalaska faces 20 years in prison during his sentencing on March 28 after he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree reckless endangerment while armed and as party to the crime and two counts of bail jumping.

Prosecutors also charged Berlanga and Yang with attempted first-degree intentional homicide and first-degree recklessly endangering safety, both with use of a dangerous weapon and as party to the crime. They will be tried in May.

Conservation groups urge appeals court to let novel frac sand challenge proceed

Conservationists and a prominent property rights advocate have weighed in with the Wisconsin appeals court on behalf of Jackson County landowners who sued to block a proposed frac sand operation.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals is considering a case brought by three families who sued AllEnergy Sand of Des Moines to stop the $130 million project on the grounds it would create a nuisance.

Greg Krueger and his co-plaintiffs claimed the 750-acre mine, processing plant and rail terminal would generate air, water, noise and light pollution, destroy the landscape, deplete groundwater supplies and unreasonably interfere with their right to peaceful enjoyment of their land.

In a brief filed on behalf of two local conservation groups, James Huffman, a professor and former dean of the Lewis and Clark Law School, argues that pre-emptive intervention is necessary when the proposed action could result in irreparable harm.

“Parties cannot always wait to sue until after a nuisance has occurred and expect full relief,” he wrote. “That is particularly true for damages to the environment.”

Deciding such cases in advance can also help defendants avoid wasting time and money, Huffman wrote.

Wisconsin Trout Unlimited argues that the proposed mine would affect ground and surface waters and could negatively impact hunting and fishing, which generate billions of dollars in economic activity.

“Water is the fuel which powers both angling and hunting activities,” the conservation organization wrote. “When water is protected, Wisconsin’s people, economy and tax base are well served.”

One of two similar cases filed on behalf of Jackson County residents, the case is a novel application of anticipatory nuisance — that a landowner can’t use that land in a way that harms neighboring property owners — to the industry, which began rapidly expanding in western Wisconsin during the past decade to supply fine-grained sand for use in oil and gas wells.

Wisconsin appellate courts have never addressed the issue of anticipatory nuisance as it relates to the mining industry. In fact, only two decisions, from 1903 and 1923, have even touched on the doctrine.

La Crosse County Judge Scott Horne dismissed the case in July, saying the plaintiffs failed to show the mine would cause “substantial harm” and that a local ordinance and developer’s agreement will be insufficient. If an actual nuisance arises, Horne said, he would have the authority to order damages or a modification to the operating regulations.


James Huffman, professor and former dean of the Lewis and Clark Law School

Krueger and his co-plaintiffs appealed, arguing Horne set the burden of proof too high at an early stage of the legal process.

“That’s what a trial is for,” said their attorney, Tim Jacobson.

AllEnergy argues the plaintiffs must present facts showing actual harm in order to have a legal claim.

“Kruegers never filed one single affidavit containing specific facts about how AllEnergy’s mining operation would negligently, necessarily and inevitably cause substantial and irreparable harm to their properties,” the company’s brief states. “The only affidavits Kruegers submitted asserted facts about different mines in different locations, claiming impacts on different properties.”

Huffman wrote that Horne’s ruling “makes it practically impossible for private property owners to protect their rights through anticipatory relief.”

The Republican nominee in Oregon’s 2010 Senate race, Huffman said the case was brought to his attention by a former student because of his interest in property rights and environmental protection.

“I thought this was an interesting case,” he said. “I think it could have some precedential impact, depending on what the court does.”

AllEnergy claims the court challenge has cost it millions of dollars in expenses and lost revenues. The company last year lost a state Supreme Court challenge to Trempealeau County’s rejection of an application for a 265-acre mine near Arcadia.


Contributed photo 

The Hackensaw Boys bring their spirited take on American roots music to the Cavalier Theater on March 15.

Judge Todd Bjerke will not recuse himself from Kendhammer case; sentencing this morning

The judge who presided over Todd Kendhammer’s trial for the 2016 murder of his wife will not recuse himself from the case and will impose sentence during a hearing Friday.

Todd Kendhammer


Barb Kendhammer

Defense attorneys Stephen Hurley and Jonas Bednarek wanted La Crosse County Circuit Judge Todd Bjerke to remove himself from the case, arguing that he is biased and catered to the media during Kendhammer’s December trial.

“The motion makes unsupported claims that the court placed the interests of the local media ahead of the defendant’s right to a fair trial and effective assistance of counsel,” Bjerke wrote in his decision issued Thursday. “Given the lack of any articulable reason in support of the defendant’s assertions, the court hereby denies the defendant’s motion for recusal of trial judge.”

Kendhammer faces a life sentence for first-degree intentional homicide in the death of his wife during his sentencing, although Bjerke could find him eligible for release after a minimum 20-year imprisonment.

Kendhammer, 47, of West Salem fatally beat his wife, Barbara, early Sept. 16, 2016, and then tried to cover up her murder by staging a traffic crash in the town of Hamilton. She died the next day.

In their motion, Kendhammer’s attorneys called pre-trial publicity “extensive” and “heavily invested in portraying Mr. Kendhammer as guilty.”

They accused Bjerke of accommodating to the media at Kendhammer’s trial by asking attorneys to speak into stationary microphones so reporters could hear proceedings and when he had a podium positioned in a “cattle chute-like configuration” for closing arguments to benefit television cameras, according to their motion.

The judge, they also argued, had Kendhammer move his late wife’s water jug from the railing of the witness stand during his testimony after he received a note the attorneys assumed came from reporters.

The volume of pre-trial publicity did not influence the judge’s handling of the case, and the defense motion is “another desperate attempt by Mr. Kendhammer to place blame on someone else (the media) instead of taking responsibility for his actions,” La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke wrote in a response to the motion.

Judges routinely direct attorneys speak into microphones, the podium configuration didn’t prevent attorneys from presenting closing arguments, and the note referenced by Kendhammer’s attorneys came from a juror, Gruenke stated.

Bjerke required attorneys to use microphones so that those in the courtroom and others listening to the trial online could hear the parties, he wrote in his ruling.

“During this particular trial, the court was constantly receiving reports, both during the trial and during breaks, that people were not able to hear counsel when they were away from the microphones,” Bjerke stated. “These complaints came from people in the back of the courtroom, bailiffs on behalf of the jurors, and people viewing the trial through live streaming.”

Bjerke positioned the podium so that he could see jurors and had the water jug moved after a juror reported being unable to see Kendhammer during his testimony.

“The defendant’s claims regarding the manner in which the court conducted the trial fail to warrant that this court recuse itself from further proceedings in this case,” Bjerke wrote.

Kendhammer’s sentencing begins at 9 a.m. Friday.

Photos: Inside the courtroom of the Todd Kendhammer trial

Photos: Inside the courtroom of the Todd Kendhammer trial