Robert Abraham: La Crosse County judges must be held accountable
COMMENTARY

Robert Abraham: La Crosse County judges must be held accountable

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La Crosse County Circuit Court Judge Scott Horne wrote a guest column (La Crosse Tribune, July 28) that offered a generic overview of how the bond system in Wisconsin works.

His column appears to be an attempt to address concerns that I raised publicly on the use of signature bonds for repeat offenders.

The case I took issue with was when a convicted heroin-dealing felon with a prior sexual assault conviction was released on back-to-back signature bonds hours apart after an allegation of second-degree sexual assault of a minor. When the defendant left jail after his first signature bond, he immediately confronted the victim.

La Crosse assistant police chief Rob Abraham

Abraham

Can you imagine how the victim felt not only during the initial incident, but when she was confronted by the same offender after she found the courage to report him?

Juvenile investigators who specialize in these types of interviews hadn’t even conducted an in-depth interview with this juvenile and she was already being intimidated by the suspect. One can only imagine the fear, intimidation and confusion this young lady was feeling when a system designed to protect her already had failed her.

The defendant was already out on signature bond for robbery, car theft and battery charges. He has a long history of bail jumping and violating Justice Support Services conditions.

In the column by Judge Scott Horne, he stated that “complaints from law enforcement have originated with signature bonds followed by significantly higher bonds after serious violations of bond have been discovered.”

I disagree. Court records indicate this individual has already violated Justice Sanctions rules on July 12, 16, 18, 19 and 24. The courts have not adjusted his bond. Prosecutors routinely request cash bonds and argue prior bond violations to the bench. In the earlier example, prosecutors did request a cash bond, which was denied.

Most people I hear from are grateful someone is willing to raise these concerns, but there are others who take offense that police are “not playing nice with the judges.” They suggest judges can’t defend themselves.

While I understand that judges can’t speak about pending cases, when is the voting public able to hear from the people they elected? When can they hear from the judges on their judicial philosophy to ensure that aligns with who they want as a judge?

Judges are elected officials who must run for office every six years and they should receive feedback from the electorate.

Others suggest that law enforcement and the judges should “work together.” One of the reasons the judicial system in the United States is “the best system in the world,” as one local judge recently stated, is because we have a system of checks and balances and separation of branches.

Judges hold law enforcement accountable — and they should. Judges are not afraid to chastise an officer or attorney in the courtroom and, most recently, on the Opinion page. Many officers have felt the wrath of a judge. When the shoe is placed on the other foot, some suggest the conduct is unprofessional.

Judge Horne points out that “monetary conditions of release must be based on a finding that cash bail is necessary to secure appearance.” If that is true, I want to understand why some are held on million-dollar bonds — Jeffrey Lepsch, Eric Koula, DeShawn Randall and others accused of killing.

These men, too, are innocent until proven guilty and none could afford that bond. In these examples, the only factor considered was the severity of the crime. Not one judge required a preventive detention hearing. The judge made the decision for detention because they could and no one disagreed except for the accused and their attorneys. Police supported these bond decisions.

The La Crosse Police Department has not taken issue with most bond decisions made by our judges. The La Crosse police administration has taken issue with bond decisions of a few repeat offenders, many of whom are already out on bond or have long histories of not complying with bonds, only to be arrested again and let out on signature bonds.

While the judges continue to try to defend these cases by explaining it away with generalized statements about bonds, community members I hear from disagree with their reasoning when handling repeat offenders. Even Judge Horne in his recent column states that judges can revoke bond for violations. If there was ever a case that called for this, it is the case that I presented.

Law enforcement has never argued that judges should impose million-dollar bonds on all drug dealers or that each one deserves the maximum sentence.

In many drug use cases before the bench, we recognize that rehabilitation is the best solution. We argue that repeat drug dealers, armed felons and other violent criminals who commit the same type of crimes while out on bonds should not qualify to continue to get signature bonds. They’re dangerous to our community, they are dangerous to the police and they could kill any person they reach with their poisonous drugs and violence.

Law enforcement realizes that we are only one player in the criminal justice system and the effort to curb overdose deaths and drug dealing.

It takes a community, as acknowledged recently by Gundersen and Mayo Health Systems leaders.

As Dr. Scott Rathgaber and Dr. Paul Mueller wrote (La Crosse Tribune, July 28), it takes “the concerted effort of government, education, social-services, businesses, neighborhoods, health-care systems and advocacy groups working together on this effort.”

The judicial branch must be a force in helping the criminal justice system send a strong message to drug dealers and the violent criminals that fuel the drug-dealing market that our community will not tolerate such activity.

The voice that has been lost in this debate on what should or shouldn’t be said on social media is that of the victim.

I have served this community for 29 years. I am a victim-rights advocate. I am anti-criminal. I support holding accountable those who commit crimes and victimize our community. I will continue bringing these important matters to the public’s attention.

Robert Abraham is assistant chief of the La Crosse Police Department. He also is serving as interim chief.

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