June 8, 2010

Milwaukee legislator rips Simanek for 'absurd' drunken driving sentence

A Milwaukee state representative is ripping Racine Judge Stephen Simanek for sentencing a drunken driver to 2 1/2 years in prison for killing a Racine woman who was riding her bicycle.

State Rep. Josh Zepnick called Simanek's sentence "absurd" and said the judge should be "ashamed" of himself.

"The maximum sentence available to Simanek was 25 years and instead he chose to issue an incredibly weak and worthless 30 MONTHS!," Zepnick wrote in a prepared statement released Tuesday.

Zepnick has made a career of fighting for stronger drunken driving sentences. His sister Jamie was killed while riding a bike in 1990 by a drunken driver.

In Racine, Janell Gehrke killed Nancy Sellars in 2008 in a drunken driving crash. Simanek sentenced Gehrke to prison on Monday, saying he wanted to make an example of her.

Zepnick said Simanek failed to send that message.

"What is frightening is the total disrespect for justice that Simanek handed down yesterday," Zepnick wrote. "Just recently, Judge Simanek issued a 3 year sentence for Racine Mayor Gary Becker. While Becker's actions are sick and destructive, Becker never killed anyone, yet he gets a longer sentence than someone who flew down the highway at 50mph and never stopped after killing a bicyclist!"

Zepnick said the Legislature has increased the maximum penalty for drunken driving, but is reliant on judges to enforce the higher maximum sentences.

"We did our work in the Legislature and I hope the public speaks up about this mismatch between the public mandate for seeing fewer victims like Nancy Sellars ... and the actions of Judge Simanek who undermine public safety with absurd decisions."