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La Crosse County judge fines potential jurors who failed to show up for Kendhammer trial

A La Crosse County judge on Tuesday fined eight potential jurors who failed to report for Todd Kendhammer’s December trial for his wife’s murder.


Circuit Judge Todd Bjerke called them into court to explain why they didn’t report for jury duty and should not be fined, a punishment never before imposed in La Crosse County.

“Disregarding a subpoena is not an option,” Bjerke lectured. “When the court orders you in, you have to be here.”

All can work off the fines, which range from $100 to $200, by reporting for jury duty by July.

“If I don’t get the summons, then I have to pay?” one asked.

“You will be summonsed,” Bjerke said.

From Tribune files: Top crime stories of 2018

One man told the judge he had “no excuse at all” and another blamed his “own stupidity.” A woman said she called the clerk’s office and was told Kendhammer had pleaded guilty in the case, while another potential juror said he believed jurors were called in from another county.

“So you just didn’t show up then?” Bjerke asked.



One woman who didn’t show up for jury selection said she was handling a work emergency, while another man said he never heard back from the clerk’s office. The one potential juror who was not fined said he couldn’t find child care as the trial approached.

The judge also issued a $500 fine for three people who did not appear at Tuesday’s hearing.

La Crosse County residents are eligible for jury service every four years. Names are chosen at random from state Department of Transportation records.

Potential jurors are excused from service for a host of reasons, but they face a fine of up to $500 under state law for failing to appear without a valid reason. In most cases, those who don’t attend are made eligible for the next jury selection.

“Most of the time they forgot,” Clerk of Courts Pam Radtke said.

From Tribune files: Todd Kendhammer found guilty of murdering wife

Kendhammer, 47, faces life imprisonment in the Sept. 17, 2016, death of his wife, Barbara, when he returns to court for sentencing on March 9.

Bjerke could find him eligible for release after a minimum of 20 years.

The West Salem man early Sept. 16 fatally beat Barbara Kendhammer and then tried to cover up her murder by staging a traffic crash. She died the next day.

Kendhammer testified during his nine-day trial in December that the couple was driving north on Hwy. M in the town of Hamilton when what he thought was a bird but turned out to be was a pipe rolled from an oncoming flatbed truck and impaled the passenger side of his windshield.

He offered multiple versions of where the couple was driving that morning and tried to convince jurors that he rendered aid to his wife, but his account of the freak crash couldn’t explain Barb’s extensive head injuries. Witnesses also debunked Kendhammer’s story, and prosecutors argued the evidence showed that Kendhammer inflicted his wife’s injuries, then took the pipe from the trunk and drove it into the windshield while she was dying on the ground.

A jury found Kendhammer guilty of first-degree intentional homicide after nine hours of deliberations. He remains jailed.

Photos: Inside the courtroom of the Todd Kendhammer trial


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Servant leadership initiative encourages La Crosse area students to work for the common good

More than 60 students, eighth-graders through college seniors, discovered Tuesday that becoming servant leaders is a bit like a cakewalk when they began the day with a body-jostling icebreaker similar to the musical party game.

By the end of the day, though, the students had established common ground within groups and set goals for projects for a program titled B.E. 4 TheCommonGood.

The program, whose B.E. stands for “building ecosystems,” teams Viterbo University students with eighth-graders from the La Crosse Design Institute charter school and juniors and seniors from 7 Rivers High School in La Crosse. The Viterbo students will mentor the younger pupils as part of the Viterbo Systems Thinking and Leadership class they are taking this semester, in conjunction with the Character Lives/Character Strong initiative in 20 area high schools.

The icebreaker exercise, labeled “Common Good” but boasting the sinister subtitle of “Stealing Plates,” required the students to form a large circle. Each student stood on a paper plate, and the game began with one player in the middle.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

Nicole Van Ert, a Viterbo University instructor and coordinator for the D.B Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership, encourages students during the B.E. 4 TheCommonGood launch at Viterbo Tuesday to think about when others have served them and use examples to plan their own service projects.

Students suggested commonalities

That player suggested one thing all might have in common, such as music. That was the cue for those who shared that interest to leave their plates and rush to ones that others had vacated.

As teachers, who included some from each school to oversee the session, stole some of the plates, students had nowhere to go but into a huddles in the middle. They then had to determine a common interest among themselves to share with the others, who repeated the mad dash — with a little pushing and shoving — until a still larger group was in the middle.

When the common interest was food, almost everyone switched plates, while when it was shoes, it seemed that more girls than boys swapped spots — not that there’s anything wrong with that or sexist in observing it.

The game went on for several rounds until the message was obvious: “As you get to know each other, you will find you have some differences and some commonalities,” said Pam Dixon, a professor in Viterbo’s Adult School of Business, who also chairs the school’s master’s in servant leadership program.

“As a lesson to be servant leaders, you learn about the common good, treat each other well, care for each other,” she said.

As it turned out, the icebreaker seemed perfect to pull together students ranging in age from eighth-graders to college seniors. It soon became hard to distinguish middle schooler who happened to be bigger than average from a smallish college senior.

And it drove home the common good theme. Students later described it as fun in the dash to avoid being in the middle, with 7 Rivers senior Kiana Lomen adding that it was “pretty intense.”

That and other activities of the day aimed to show that “we have the ability to impact our world in La Crosse,” said Nicole Van Ert, who is co-teaching the leadership class with Dixon. “Not just Viterbo. Not just LDI. Not just 7 Rivers.”

‘Be more than a butt in a chair’

After a motivational video, Van Ert told the students, “Now you’ll have to be more than a butt in a chair — decide something to do.”

To generate ideas for service, she asked students to cite examples of when they felt served in a way that had an impact on their lives and made them want to give back.

Saying he couldn’t think of a huge example, Viterbo senior Connor Gavin of Onalaska said he appreciated the fact that, when he was on vacation with his family recently, his boss moved his car from one side of the street to the other so he wouldn’t get a ticket for violating La Crosse’s alternate side parking ordinance.

Gavin explained during an interview later that he had mentioned his dilemma during a shift on his job at Houghton’s Jackson Street Pub in La Crosse, near his apartment.

Although he has access to a garage, he said, it appears to be a little off-kilter, so he hesitates to use it, “especially during the winter.”

His boss, Keith Carson, overheard him and volunteered to move his car, doing so three times while Gavin was out of town.

“It saved me X amount of money for a few tickets. That’s probably not a lot of money, but for a kid going to college and working only a few hours a week, it’s a lot,” Gavin said.

The seemingly smaller scope of the service wasn’t a concern for Dixon and Van Ert, who said the important point was to start somewhere.

Five community organizations — the Outdoor Recreation Alliance’s La Crosse Community Forest, North American Squirrel Association, the La Crosse Neighborhoods Association, the annual Community Free Thanksgiving Dinner and the YMCA Food Forest — set up booths for the students to visit and consider for their community projects.

For example, the team that includes Viterbo juniors Kennedy Tebo and Mayra Ramirez, 7 Rivers senior Kiana Lomen and LDI eighth-grader Felix Froh is planning an outdoor community movie night. It will feature “WALL-E,” a 2008 movie with an environmental theme, with proceeds going toward the La Crosse Community Forest.

Asked who is leading the group, Tebo said, “We’re all leaders,” with each member having duties, such as seeking the collaborators to to donate popcorn and drinks for the movie night.

“When everyone has their own job, it’s faster,” Tebo said. “The whole project is to make La Crosse better.”

Local initiatives converge in collaboration

The whole project also is the result of a convenient convergence of several initiatives, said Keachen Abing, a social studies teacher at 7 Rivers who also is one of the B.E. leaders.

Interestingly, like Tebo, Abing shies away from claiming the “leader” label, noting that teachers from each school are involved and guided activities Tuesday.

“We wanted to have our juniors and seniors mentor students from LDI,” he said. “Then we realized our kids could use mentors, and this grew organically with Viterbo.”

Rick Kyte, director of the D.B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership at Viterbo, “helped hook us up with Pam and Nicole, and it took off from there,” along with Character Lives/Character Strong, Abing said.

A video the students viewed urged them to become instruments for change and use their talents to become servant leaders.

“If you wait until you can do everything for everybody instead of something for somebody, you’ll end up doing nothing for nobody,” the video concluded.

Abing doesn’t expect this group of students to wait, saying, “I think there is a lot of power in these kids,” and they will use it to improve the community.

Less smartphone time equals happier teenager, study suggests

A precipitous drop in the happiness, self-esteem and life satisfaction of American teens came as their ownership of smartphones rocketed from zero to 73 percent and they devoted an increasing share of their time online.

Coincidence? New research suggests it is not.

In a study published Monday in the journal Emotion, psychologists from San Diego State University and the University of Georgia used data on mood and media culled from roughly 1.1 million U.S. teens to figure out why a decades-long rise in happiness and satisfaction among U.S. teens suddenly shifted course in 2012 and declined sharply over the next four years.

Was this sudden reversal a response to an economy that tanked in 2007 and stayed bad well into 2012? Or did it have its roots in a very different watershed event: the 2007 introduction of the smartphone, which put the entire online world at a user’s fingertips?

Smartphones were a technological innovation embraced like no other: By 2012, half of Americans (and roughly 37 percent of teens) owned one. By 2016, 77 percent of all Americans carried an iPhone or something like it, including at least 73 percent of teens.

Evidence of their effect on teens has been all over the map. Some studies show that the greater the time spent engaged in online content and social media, the unhappier the child. Others have found evidence that participation in social media plays a positive role in teens’ self-images.

That’s led some to suggest there’s a “sweet spot” of social-media use. Where it lies is anybody’s guess.

In the new study, researchers tried to find it by plumbing a trove of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders’ responses to queries on how they felt about life and how they used their time.

They found that between 1991 and 2016, adolescents who spent more time on electronic communication and screens — social media, texting, electronic games, the internet — were less happy, less satisfied with their lives and had lower self-esteem. TV watching, which declined over the nearly two decades they examined, was similarly linked to lower psychological well-being.

By contrast, adolescents who spent more time on non-screen activities had higher psychological well-being. They tended to profess greater happiness, higher self-esteem and more satisfaction with their lives.

While these patterns emerged in the group as a whole, they were particularly clear among eighth- and 10th-graders, the authors found: “Every non-screen activity was correlated with greater happiness, and every screen activity was correlated with less happiness.”

The survey that 1.1 million adolescents answered between 1991 and 2016 (called Monitoring the Future) doesn’t track a single group of kids from year to year. So the researchers could draw no conclusions about the evolution of an individual teen’s happiness and self-esteem on the basis of how she spent her time.

But by looking at group snapshots of kids taken in any given year, they could discern consistent patterns — correlations — between how kids spent their time and how satisfied they were with themselves and their lives.

Gathered together, those snapshots also produced a clear picture: adolescents’ psychological well-being was lowest in years when, as a group, they spent more time online, on social media and reading news online, and when more Americans owned smartphones. Psychological well-being was highest in years when adolescents spent more time with their friends in person, reading print media and on exercise and sports.

It’s quite another thing to show that smartphones — and the increase in time spent online that came with them — is the cause of growing teen angst. To do that, researchers needed to align potential “causes” and “effects” with a lag time of a year, and see if the correlation still held.

Sure enough, the downward trajectory of psychological well-being closely followed trends of smartphone adoption and time spent online, not the other way around.

The analysis also suggested that the Great Recession didn’t explain the national souring of teens’ moods. An increase in income inequality and a drop in gross domestic product did correlate with their decline in happiness and satisfaction. But unemployment peaked in 2010 and teens’ psychological well-being began to decline only after 2012. Their satisfaction did not consistently rise or fall in response to changes in median household income, the stock market’s Dow Jones industrial average, the unemployment rate or college enrollment (which is also an economic bellwether).

“The sudden shift in well-being around 2012-13 suggests that the trends in adolescent time use reached a tipping point around that year, perhaps due to the market saturation of smartphones in that period,” wrote the authors, Jean M. Twenge and Gabrielle Martin of San Diego State University and W. Keith Campbell of the University of Georgia.

In fact, they noted, after teen ownership of smartphones began to stabilize in 2014-15, so, too, did the national decline in teen happiness and self-esteem.

It’s possible that adults also experienced a change in happiness as smartphones proliferated. But Twenge, Martin and Campbell suggest that teens who were among the first to navigate adolescence with the full range of online offerings in their palms might just be unique in their response.

“The abrupt changes in adolescents’ time use and well-being suggest a possible generational shift appearing among those born after about 1995,” they wrote. Perhaps, they added, the cutoff for the generation known as Millennials (thought to be those born between 1980 and 1999) should stop at 1995.

A new generation is now dominating research samples of teens and college-age young adults. They might be called iGen, the authors wrote, and their rapid adoption of smartphone technology in the early 2010s may leave a mark on their young psyches that will distinguish them from Millennials.

According to the study, “every non-screen activity was correlated with greater happiness, and every screen activity was correlated with less happiness.”

Rory O'Driscoll, La Crosse Tribune 

Holmen's Trevor Plomedahl attempts to flip Melrose-Mindoro/Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau's Sam Johnson during Tuesday's 132-pound match at UW-La Crosse's Mitchell Hall. Plomedahl pinned Johnson in 2 minutes, 56 seconds.

Wisconsin GOP votes to oust elections, ethics agency heads

MADISON — The Wisconsin Senate voted Tuesday to oust leaders of the bipartisan state agencies charged with running elections and overseeing ethics laws, the latest move by Republicans to exact revenge on anyone connected with a now-closed investigation into Gov. Scott Walker and other conservatives.

The highly unusual Senate vote was designed to force out two former employees of the now-shuttered agency that approved the Walker probe who were later selected to head the newly created bipartisan Elections and Ethics commissions.

But Elections administrator Michael Haas said after the vote rejecting his confirmation that he plans to show up for work on Wednesday and if the commission chooses to appoint him as an interim director, he would do it.

Ethics leader Brian Bell declined to say what his next steps would be after the Senate rejected his confirmation. But Ethics Commission chairman David Halbrooks said legal options would be considered. The commission planned to meet Thursday to appoint an interim administrator and Halbrooks wouldn’t say if Bell would be considered for the post.

The law isn’t clear on whether Senate rejection of their confirmation automatically means Bell and Haas must leave their jobs.

Both Haas and Bell, who have served as interim directors pending Senate confirmation since mid-2016, had unanimous support of their bipartisan commissions. But Republicans who control the Senate said they didn’t have confidence in their leadership given their past work for the agency that investigated Walker and others in the GOP.

“I wish both of these men would have resigned by now,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald also said that he had told both Bell and Haas when they were appointed that their jobs would be temporary given their past work for the Government Accountability Board. Haas disputed that Fitzgerald had ever told him the job would be temporary.

Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach, of Middleton, objected to the confirmation vote coming without a public hearing, breaking with the long-held practice for appointees.

“This is a smack in the face to what we’re supposed to be about in the Wisconsin state Senate,” Erpenbach said.

The Senate voted 18-13 to reject Haas and Bell, with all Republicans in support and all Democrats against.

Bell watched the vote from the Senate gallery while Haas defended himself on Twitter during the debate.

The Ethics Commission on Monday night, just hours before the vote, released findings of its own internal investigation conducted by a former federal prosecutor, Patrick Fiedler, and his law firm. Their investigation determined “there is not a scintilla of evidence that Brian Bell has ever performed any of his governmental duties in a partisan manner.”

Fitzgerald said he could never support Bell or Haas because of their work for the GAB, which conservatives believe unfairly investigated Walker and other Republicans for alleged illegal campaign coordination. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ended the secret investigation, known as a John Doe, in 2015 and no one was charged.

The Legislature disbanded the GAB in 2015, but the new bipartisan commissions they created unanimously hired Bell and Haas.

Haas did not work directly on the John Doe investigation, but did review legal filings made in lawsuits over the probe. Bell did not work on the investigation and publicly criticized the former GAB last week, saying he left it because he thought it was mismanaged and unfairly enforcing the law.

A report from Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel released last month faulted the GAB for poor security measures that allowed secret documents to be leaked to a newspaper. Schimel did not determine who turned over the information and did not name Bell or Haas among nine people who should face disciplinary action.

Whether or not they committed any crimes isn’t the issue, Fitzgerald said. Instead, it was one of trust and Fitzgerald said he had none in either of them.