The city is appealing Judge Mark Nielsen dismissal of obstruction charges brought against a Horlick High School teacher who questioned a policeman's right to remove a student from his classroom.
Social Studies teacher Al Levie was given a $455 citation for asking whether a police officer who wanted to question a student had a warrant. Nielsen ruled on May 27 that Levie's question did not constitute obstruction, but he also said officers are allowed to do their job without interference anywhere in the community.
City Attorney Rob Weber said his department has appealed the judgment "because we think the judge was wrong." The city is not asking for a new trial, merely that a Circuit Court judge review Nielsen's ruling.
Asked how the decision to appeal was made, Weber said, "I know the Police Department was upset by the case, but that never plays a part." Weber said Assistant City Attorney Scott Letteney, who handled the case, "convinced me we should appeal."
So far, the city has not had to give any reasons for its appeal, because the trial transcript has not yet been completed. Until it is, neither side will have to present briefs.
Weber also noted the irony that he was attorney for the Racine Education Association for 30 years, a group not happy with the city's appeal.
Levie said "it's unbelieveable" that the city is fighting the decision. "It seems to me, as a taxpayer, they're spending an inordinate amount of time on a ticket worth less than $500." Levie, who spent $5,500 on his defense in the case, said his lawyer said that in his 40 years of practice, he's never seen a city appeal an ordinance violation. "It seems they're trying to bully their way into a different verdict."
Alderman Michael Shields, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, also wonders "why the city would want to appeal this kind of minor case." He spoke to Weber about it -- "I wanted to see why it's important to waste city dollars" -- and said Weber told him "the judge made a terrible mistake." Still, Shields doesn't feel he's gotten a satisfactory answer about what that mistake might be. "If it started as a school issue, why are we taking it so hard?" He says he's brought his reservations to the ear of Mayor Dickert.