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Monday, December 31, 2007

Convict sought deal to reduce charges

By Mike Heine/The Week

A Whitewater man says he decided against settling his lawsuit against a retired police detective after learning the district attorney wouldn't reduce his criminal charges as part of the deal, according to federal court documents.

Stephen D. Cvicker contends he planned to enter into a settlement for $75,000 with an understanding that the district attorney's office would reduce a 2003 felony arson conviction to misdemeanor charges.

The proposed settlement included the release of retired detective Larry P. Meyer, the Whitewater Police Department, the district attorney's office and others.

Walworth County District Attorney Phil Koss said he never agreed to a reduction of criminal charges in exchange for a settlement in Cvicker's civil case.

"If I reduced this, everyone who is unhappy with their criminal conviction is going to sue the investigating officer and then go for a reduction by going to the federal court," Koss said. "It's bad precedent to reward someone for suing an officer."

Koss said it was Cvicker and his attorneys who tried to tie the reduction of criminal charges to the civil case.

"I've never contacted them saying, 'Settle this, and we'll reduce in exchange for a release,'" Koss said.

Doing so could be a possible ethics violation, University of Wisconsin law professor Frank Tuerkheimer said.

"Somebody can't basically buy the elimination of a criminal charge," Tuerkheimer said.

Koss agreed that kind of action would be improper.

"We didn't do that," he said. "We were contacted by them. They made an offer to make sure everybody was held harmless if there was a civil settlement.

"Never in all my years have I seen some sort of criminal settlement tied to a civil settlement (like this)," Koss said.

Days after Meyer's attorney wrote the U.S. District Court that a settlement was eminent, Koss notified the parties that there would be no reduction of any conviction.

In an affidavit, Cvicker wrote: "The agreement, which I believed was in place, was the global agreement, which included reduction of the criminal charges against me in the separate criminal proceeding. It was this agreement that prompted (Meyer's) attorney (Ryan) Braithwaite to contact the court and advise the court that settlement had been reached in the case."

Cvicker contends his intent to settle focused on the reduction of the criminal charges more than the payoff amount.

"Of most concern to me is the reclaiming of my reputation, which has been destroyed as a result of Mr. Meyer's actions and the unjust charges that were filed against me," his affidavit reads.

While under heavy medication from heart surgery, Cvicker signed an agreement for $82,500 that did not release the district attorney's office, according to court documents

He never had his attorney file it with the court, however.

Meyer's attorneys are seeking to have the court enforce that settlement and have the case dropped.

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