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Whitewater judge guilty of disorderly conduct

---Spear resigns as part of plea

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published July 19, 2007, 1:10 p.m.)

Whitewater Municipal Judge Steven Spear was found guilty Wednesday of disorderly conduct, a civil violation stemming from allegations he forcibly tried to kiss a female secretary and masturbated in front of her inside his office in early 2006.

Spear, who did not appear at the plea and sentencing hearing, will have to pay a $438 fine. He resigned Tuesday as part of the plea agreement.

The woman who reported the incident was not happy with the outcome of the case, but said she decided to go along with the plea.

"I'm not liking it, but if it gives our family any kind of peace, I'll do it," the woman said. "I think he's an embarrassment to Whitewater, to Walworth County and to anywhere else he practices."

Spear, who is an attorney, was not required to appear because the case was reduced to a civil violation. The woman called his non-appearance "gutless."

"I think he should have been expected to acknowledge me and acknowledge an apology, at best," she said.

Kenosha County Deputy District Attorney Richard Ginkowski, a special prosecutor for the case, said he spent hours reviewing investigation files to see if he could press further charges.

Since Spear never tried to touch the woman sexually, other than to try and kiss her, he could not be charged with sexual assault, Ginkowski said.

The woman also never saw Spear masturbating, but he "appeared" to be doing so after he told her he did it "every day thinking about her," according to the criminal complaint.

"He navigated himself around those waters very artfully," Ginkowski said. "We spent many hours trying to see if we could come up with more serious charges, but the facts just didn't fit."

Spear's attorney, Frank Lettenberger, entered a no contest plea, meaning Spear accepts the charges but is not admitting to the allegations.

"Steve has got a very good reputation as an attorney and as a person in the community," said Lettenberger, who knew Spear in law school. "He's very qualified, has good skills and is very well liked by the public."

Spear declined to comment when reached at his office.

"I'd love to comment and tell you all kinds of things, but that's not the way I should do it," he said.

Ginkowski said the woman had every right to be upset about the plea.

"I think she would rather have seen a criminal conviction, and so would I," Ginkowski said. "We both also recognize there is no guarantee of securing a criminal conviction, or if we did that it would result in his automatic removal from the bench, which was the primary goal."

Spear remaining on the bench after the incident with the woman would be frightening, said Ginkowski, who was surprised Spear even ran again with potential charges looming.

"It was his right to be a candidate, but I would be lying if I said that I didn't roll my eyes," Ginkowski said.

Spear, elected judge in 1999, won what was his fourth term against a write-in candidate, 569-184.

He could seek reelection in April when the city of Whitewater holds a special election to fill the vacated seat for a one-year term. Regular elections for the post are held in odd-numbered years.

"It's up to the community now to make a decision where he goes from here," Lettenberger said.

At a special city council Wednesday night, the council approved asking the Wisconsin Second District Court Administrator to appoint a substitute judge until the council hires an interim judge. The interim judge would hold office until the April 2008 election.

Applications for the position will be accepted until Friday, Aug. 3.

Municipal judges don't have to be attorneys. They only have to live in the municipality in which they serve and be 18 or older.

Both Lettenberger and Ginkowski expected the woman to file a civil suit against Spear. Nothing was filed as of Wednesday.

The woman's civil attorney, Paul Bucher, said civil action is possible if a private agreement isn't reached.

"It's about holding him accountable for his actions above what the criminal system did," Bucher said. "Obviously, we'd like to accomplish that without litigation."

The Allegations

Spear was charged in late March, more than a year after the alleged incident because DNA testing took months.

The woman told Whitewater police that on Feb. 28, 2006, Spear said he wanted her and that he wanted to kiss her, according to the criminal complaint.

She reminded Spear that he was married and the she did not want to kiss him. He tried anyway, but she pushed away. She got up to leave, but Spear backed her against the door and again tried to kiss her on the mouth, according to the complaint.

Spear later called the woman at her desk and, "I want you."

He then summoned her into his office. She went, expecting spear to apologize. He didn't, according to the complaint.

It appeared Spear was masturbating under his desk, the woman told police. Spear told her he masturbates in his office every day, according to the complaint.

The woman left the office and Spear later called her to apologize, according to the complaint.

A search warrant conducted at Spear's former law office at the Soffa and Devitt firm, 332 W. Whitewater St., Whitewater, uncovered semen samples from his keyboard, computer, desk, chair and carpet.

Spear is no longer with the firm.

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