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Judge tosses Mercer school board cases


April 23, 2019


HurleyIron County Judge Patrick Madden dismissed the charges against five current and former board members of the Mercer School Board Monday, finding they lacked the intent needed for the crimes they were charged with.

“One of the clear obligations of this court is to not permit actions to go forward which do not meet the basic requirements of ‘mens rea’ and ‘actus rea,’ which is … you have to have a guilty mind and a guilty act to commit a crime,” Madden said, while ruling on one of the defense motions to dismiss the charges. “The court — in reviewing this letter, reviewing the motion, reviewing the authorities cited — finds that this motion to dismiss is warranted and is granted.”

Current board president Noel W. Brandt, 43, and clerk Michele L. “Micki” Holmstrom, 45, had each been charged with one count of acting in excess of their lawful authority or in a way they knew was forbidden by law; while treasurer Deanna Frances Pierpont, 76, was charged with two counts of acting in excess of her lawful authority or in a way she knew was forbidden by law.

Former board members Colleen E. “Kelly” Kohegyi, 62, and Denise F. Thompson, 66, were both charged with one count of falsely exercising a function of a public office.

Most of the charges center around a letter the defendants sent to the Wisconsin Department of Instruction on May 1, 2018, according to the criminal complaints.

The letter was allegedly intended to explain questions that had arisen during a state audit of the district’s Fund 80 money.

Fund 80 money is intended, “For activities such as adult education, community recreation programs such as evening swimming pool operation and softball leagues, elderly food service programs, non-special education preschool, day care services and other programs which are not elementary and secondary educational programs but have the primary function of serving the community,” according to the DPI’s website.

The letter was signed “Mercer Board of Education,” according to the complaints, and Pierpont, Thompson, Holmstrom, Kohegyi and Brandt’s names and signatures were at the bottom of the letter.

The facts of the case didn’t seem to be contested in court Monday, with the various defense attorneys arguing the letter simply didn’t constitute the crimes the five were charged with.

“A misconduct case requires more, judge. A misconduct case requires either some personal gain or some intent to defraud,” said Jonas Bednarek, who represented Brandt.

Jim McKenzie, who represented Kohegyi, Thompson and Pierpont; and Steven Lucareli, who represented Holmstrom, made similar arguments in their respective motions to dismiss the charges against their clients.

Pierpont’s second charge of acting in excess of her lawful authority stemmed from the allegation she deleted a recording of a school board meeting where there was an altercation that included profanity.

McKenzie successfully argued the recording was her personal property rather than an official public record and she was free to do what she wanted with it.

Tingstad — who objected to the motions being heard at all Monday — argued that whether the actions and motives behind them rose to the level of a crime was a question for the jury to decide.

“This letter itself creates probable cause, your honor. Any further issue — what was the intent of the letter … that is all questions for the jury that get beyond this motion,” Tingstad argued in one of the cases.

Tingstad told the Daily Globe after the hearings he has plans to review the proposed defense orders to dismiss before considering whether to appeal or refile the charges.


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