Friday, October 4, 2019

Lawyers for former UWO officials say criminal case is weak, ask for dismissal or 'bill of particulars'

From left, sttorneys Raymond Dall'Osto and Steven Biskupic are representing former Chancellor Richard Wells and former Vice Chancellor Thomas Sonnleitner in a criminal case in Winnebago County Circuit Court.
By Miles Maguire
The criminal case against two former UW Oshkosh officials is so weak, their attorneys say, that the state needs to put up or shut up.

Lawyers for former UWO Chancellor Richard Wells and former Vice Chancellor Thomas Sonnleitner argue that the case should be dismissed or prosecutors should be required to “file a bill of particulars specifically stating what facts, specific conduct, actions and/or statements and other evidence exists” to support the criminal charges.

Wells and Sonnleitner have been accused of five counts of misconduct in public office and face up to $50,000 in fines and almost 18 years in prison. They have been charged with exceeding their legal authority in facilitating financial transactions between the university and its fundraising arm, the UW Oshkosh Foundation.

The foundation prevailed in its legal battle with the University of Wisconsin System after two judges ruled that the UW System had misinterpreted the state constitution and other laws.

The defendants’ lawyers in this case argue that those legal rulings cut the legs out from under the criminal charges.

“Because the factual basis for the felony criminal charges against Wells and Sonnleitner are limited to and based upon an alleged constitutional violation, and no such violation exists as a matter of law, all of the charges against both them should be dismissed as a matter of law,” the lawyers said.

Wells is represented by Raymond Dall’Osto, a prominent Milwaukee-based defense lawyer. Sonnleitner’s lawyer is Steven Biskupic, a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. They filed the latest brief jointly on Oct. 1.

Even if the defendants have violated state law, prosecutors also have to show that Wells and Sonnleitner knew that they were exceeding their legal authority as top university officials when they were working on the foundation’s real estate deals.

Specific facts “showing that the defendants' actually knew that their conduct was unlawful at the time they committed the alleged acts is required,” their lawyers said. “The criminal complaints against both defendants are devoid of such essential facts establishing the requisite knowledge on the part of each defendant.”

The state has until next month to reply.

The case is before Winnebago County Circuit Court Judge John A. Jorgensen, who said he expects to issue an oral ruling Jan. 15.

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