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Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

Kids took advantage of the fresh snow and warm temperatures to do some sledding on the Myrick Park hill. The forecast is for dry weather through the weekend, with highs in the mid-40s by Saturday.


Kalise Brent, 5, smiles as she slides down the hill in Myrick Park.

La Crosse Diocese announces employee pension cuts


Hundreds of current and former employees of the Diocese of La Crosse have received letters announcing they won’t be receiving all of the pension benefits they were counting on — and won’t know exactly how much they’ll actually receive for at least three months.

The plan, to which the diocese and parishes were the sole contributors, covers Catholic school teachers, rectory workers, custodians, secretaries and other employees in 19 west-central Wisconsin counties.

The letter from Bishop William Patrick Callahan dated Feb. 27 stated: “After much analysis, discussions and prayers, it has been determined that it is necessary to terminate the Diocese of La Crosse Lay Employees’ Retirement Plan at this time.”

The bishop’s letter informs recipients: “I take seriously the benefits that have been part of our employee’s employment agreement, but unfortunately, this plan has been underfunded for years. When it was frozen in 2007, we continued to bill parishes and allocate funds from the Diocesan Annual Appeal to help make up this shortfall. These efforts have helped but have not allowed us to fully fund this plan. I know some of you are counting on these funds currently and others are relying on them for the future.”

The letter states that all funds in the plan will be distributed as a one-time single payment to eligible participants “based on the ratio of available plan assets divided by total plan liabilities.”

The letter from the diocese states that detailed information will be sent to individuals by the end of May, and that monthly benefits will continue until then.

The bishop states that the fund has been a concern for many years, and that when it was frozen in 2007, it was converted to a 403(b) fund.

The bishop points out that “economic conditions have been favorable over the past months, which mean the pension payouts are at levels that didn’t seem feasible even a few years ago.”

“This difficult decision has been made to ensure that all plan participants receive as much benefit as possible,” the bishop wrote.

“It is alarming,” Regis Catholic Schools President Mark Gobler told the Eau Claire Leader Telegram on Tuesday. He estimates more than 1,000 people could be affected by the change.

The 160-parish Diocese of La Crosse is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

Aquinas' Courtney Becker takes a shot against Central last month. Becker has impressed coach Dave Donarski with her ability to get rebounds and then run the floor in the Blugolds' up-tempo attack.

DA: Todd Kendhammer makes 'desperate attempt' to blame others for his murder conviction

The volume of pre-trial coverage on Todd Kendhammer’s case for the 2016 murder of his wife did not impact the judge’s handling of the case and is a “desperate attempt” by Kendhammer to blame others for his conviction, La Crosse County’s district attorney wrote in court records filed Wednesday.


Todd Kendhammer


Barb Kendhammer

In a motion filed Tuesday, defense attorneys Stephen Hurley and Jonas Bednarek asked La Crosse County Circuit Judge Todd Bjerke to recuse himself, arguing that he is biased and catered to the media during Kendhammer’s December trial.

Bjerke has not issued a ruling.

Kendhammer’s sentencing is set for Friday, when he faces a life sentence for first-degree intentional homicide in the death of his wife, although a judge could find him eligible for release after a minimum 20-year imprisonment.

The prosecution contended that 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 a response to the motion filed Wednesday, La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke did not take a position on whether Bjerke should recuse himself, stating the “ultimate decision of whether the court is biased or not is obviously something only the court can answer.”

Kendhammer’s attorneys called pre-trial publicity “extensive” and “heavily invested in portraying Mr. Kendhammer as guilty.” The attorneys also accused law enforcement of providing the media with case materials.

“These issues have nothing to do with whether or not the court should recuse itself,” Gruenke wrote. “It seems to be another desperate attempt by Mr. Kendhammer to place blame on someone else (the media) instead of taking responsibility for his actions.”

The La Crosse County Sheriff’s Department released records on the case at the advice of the county’s corporation counsel after the Tribune filed a request under Wisconsin open record law, Gruenke stated.

“ … This was not a case of police trying to influence the media,” he wrote.

Kendhammer’s attorneys accused Bjerke of accommodating 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 the 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.

Judges routinely demand 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.

“It doesn’t appear the defendant has identified any actual right that was violated or even impacted,” Gruenke stated. “There has been no allegation the defendant was kept from questioning witnesses, presenting evidence, making objections or arguing his case to the jury.”

Photos: Inside the courtroom of the Todd Kendhammer trial

Photos: Inside the courtroom of the Todd Kendhammer trial
From Tribune files: Todd Kendhammer found guilty of murdering wife

Barb Kendhammer

Todd Kendhammer