Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.
In a story I discussed while filling in for Mark Belling on Newstalk 1130 WISN today during the 3:00 hour, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge John Franke has ruled in favor of the city of Franklin's lawsuit filed against registered sex offender Steve Hanke who moved into Franklin in June of 2007 in violation of the city's ordinance that prohibits released sex offenders from living or congregating within 2000 feet of schools and other locations. Hanke moved into a home 600 feet from a Franklin middle school.
Hanke could now be forced to vacate the premises and face fines for every day he was in violation other ordinance. The ruling is significant, essentially upholding the Franklin ordinance's constitutionality as well as other similar ordinances enacted around the state.
Franklin has become, over the past several years, the #1 crusader against sex offenders/sex predators and the #1 crusader in the state for protecting all children in all neighborhoods in Wisconsin from sex offender and sex predators.
A few years ago, busloads of Franklin residents stormed a public hearing at State Fair Park to protest a special state committee's thought of building a facility in Franklin to house numerous sexually violent persons. Franklin was considered an ideal location, having the most open space in Milwaukee County.
The loud and strong stand by Franklin residents couldn't be ignored. The special panel wrapped up its business without recommending any site in Milwaukee County for a sex predator house.
A flurry of activity ensued at the state Capitol. A key piece of legislation was approved and signed into law that killed funding for the facility for sexually violent persons and also disbanded the special committee assigned to find a location for the facility. Another bill signed into law makes first degree sexual assault of a child punishable by life in prison. Both bills were authored by state Senator Mary Lazich.
After sailing through the state Senate, a bill requiring that the worst sex offenders in the state be monitored by Global Positioning System or GPS was finally approved after much wrangling in the Assembly and signed into law.
Still, city of Franklin officials wanted to go even further. They were very worried that released sex offenders would be dumped in Franklin. Sparking that fear was the state allowing notorious offender Billy Lee Morford to travel back and forth between his northwest side Milwaukee home and Franklin for 18 months without properly notifying Franklin.
After numerous public hearings and through review, the Franklin Common Council late in 2006 approved an ordinance that was amended and finally put on the books in early 2007 that placed very strict limitations on where sexually violent persons on supervised release could live or congregate in Franklin.
Franklin's ordinance states that no sexually violent person on supervised release may live within two thousand feet of places like schools, libraries, day care centers, parks, playgrounds, athletic fields, movie theatres, etc.
As of today, 35 municipalities from all parts of the state have contacted Franklin for information about their milestone ordinance and have either enacted similar ordinances or are considering passing such laws in their own communities.
The Franklin police have used the ordinance many times to successfully move sex offenders out of areas they weren't supposed to be.
Here's where the story gets controversial and important to every family in the entire state of Wisconsin.
Several months after the Franklin ordinance took effect, Steve Hanke moved into a home about 600 feet from a middle school in Franklin in clear violation of the Franklin ordinance. Hanke, who is in his mid-50's, bought the home in the 8200 block of S. 77 Street five months after Franklin adopted its ordinance, in June of 2007.
Hanke refused to leave and Franklin took the necessary legal action to force him out. The city of Franklin filed a lawsuit to evict Hanke, a registered sex offender. Hanke was sentenced to nine years in prison in 1996 for second-degree sexual assault.
Hanke's attorney, Andrew Arena, made the incredibly insulting comment that Franklin residents were overreacting. "The sky is falling in Franklin," he said. "It's just ridiculous."
Why is this all so important?
The city of Franklin had a lot to lose if it did not prevail in this case. A ruling against the city would essentially nullify the Franklin's tough restrictive ordinance that communities all across the state are using as a model to pass their own similar laws. If Franklin lost this lawsuit, the teeth would have been taken right out of its ordinance and the fear that a facility to house numerous sexually violent persons could be built in Franklin would have started all over again.
Last fall, a court hearing on the matter was held before Judge John Franke. Franke is a very liberal judge with a history.
In June of 2003, Franke released one of Wisconsin's most notorious predators, four-time-convicted child molester Billy Lee Morford, to a home reportedly less than a mile from two schools and a park. Morford was the first sexual predator given supervised release in the city of Milwaukee.
In 1997, Franke granted predator Shawn Schulpius supervised release, contingent on the creation of a plan for housing and monitoring him in Milwaukee. But for more than two years, officials could not find supervised housing for Schulpius in the city. In 2000, Franke reversed himself, saying Schulpius didn't deserve release after all.
So, you have the city of Franklin going to court to get Hanke out, claiming he's violating a constitutional ordinance. A loss for Franklin in court would have been a loss for the entire state, eliminating restrictive ordinances from the books in other municipalities, and opening the doors for sex offenders to live as close to innocent families and children to prey as they please.
In a conversation I had earlier this week with Franklin's City Attorney Jesse Wesolowski, I said that I could envision Judge Franke issuing his decision on July 3 at 4:00 in the afternoon, and if so, that would be bad news. It didn't turn out that way.
This is a huge victory for not just the city of Franklin, but the entire state of Wisconsin. Ordinances that are in place right now to restrict where sex offenders can live or congregate in can remain in effect. Other cities, towns, and villages watching anxiously, waiting from the sidelines to see what would transpire can now move forward with their plans to adopt such ordinances.
Franklin actually has two ordinances that are very similar but deal with the same issue.
There's an ordinance that deals with what Franklin City Attorney Jesse Wesolowksi described as a "public order." This ordinance basically states that Franklin is taking these restrictive measures to protect its citizens, and then it also lists all the nuts and bolts, the details of the ordinance, the 2000 feet limits, and so on.
Then there's the all-important zoning ordinance, and this is critical. This sealed the deal for a Franklin victory.
I'm told that it appears Judge Franke made his ruling based on Franklin's zoning ordinance that includes all those nuts and bolts details, but was crafted and adopted based on statutes that allow municipalities like Franklin to pass laws that control its land use. This ordinance, that is almost identical to the first ordinance except for some legal terminology, saved the day for Franklin.
Also, Hanke presented in court at least 10 arguments that questioned the legality and constitutionality. Judge Franke found nothing to support any of those arguments.Franke also ruled against Hanke's motion that the claims made by the city of Franklin were invalid.
So, what does it all mean?
#1- Franklin's tough ordinance is constitutional.
#2- Other ordinances in other communities are safely in place.
#3- Other municipalities considering adopting such ordinances can safely move forward.
#4-Does Hanke have to move? The judge has asked the city of Franklin to prepare a proposed order to have Hanke obey the ordinance; in other words, to move from his current residence.
#5- Hanke could be fined, anywhere from $1 to $2500 per day for every day he was in violation of the ordinance. Remember, he moved into his home in violation in June of 2007.The judge wants a hearing to determine what the specifics on fines will be.
I have publicly criticized Judge Franke in the past and worried about how he would rule. He made the right decisions and deserves credit.
But there are other, bigger heroes, starting with the people of Franklin, the Franklin-based Citizens for a Safe Wisconsin, The Franklin Common Council and the Mayor, and especially Alderman Steve Olson, the architect of Franklin's ordinance, and yes, state Senator Mary Lazich, who set the table for the creation of the Franklin ordinance through her collaboration with Citizens for a Safe Wisconsin to author anti-sex predator legislation that became law in Wisconsin.
The winners are every single child in the state of Wisconsin and their parents.
If you missed my discussion on the radio, the podcast is available on the Newstalk 1130 WISN website.
UPDATE: I talked about this topic in the 4:00 hour as well.