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Reality Check: Third-Party Ad Attacks Butler

Published On: Mar 29 2008 01:28:59 AM CDT
Updated On: Mar 29 2008 01:35:51 AM CDT
MADISON, Wis. -

One of the biggest issues in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race this year has been the numerous third-party ads and the attacks they have made on the candidates.

VIDEO: Watch The Report

WISC-TV analyzed the claims made in an ad from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce that seizes on a judge's former nickname.

"We've heard it before: Judge cites loophole, sides with criminal that threatens our safety. Take Justice Louis Butler; his colleagues called him 'Loophole Louie," the ad says. "A woman was beaten to death with a bat. Butler uses a loophole suppressing critical evidence."

WISC-TV found this claim to be misleading.

Neither of the articles sources in the ad contain the quote or headline suggested by pictures shown in the ad.

The case alluded to in the ad involved Matthew Knapp, who was accused of a slaying in Watertown in 1987.

When Knapp was arrested, an officer took his sweatshirt, which had blood on it, before reading Knapp his Miranda rights.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court first voted 6-1 in 2003, before Butler was on the court, to bar the sweatshirt from use at trial.

It's also notable that the ad shows a picture of a bat and not a shirt.

After the U.S. Supreme Court modified its opinion on Miranda right violations, the Wisconsin Supreme Court reconsidered and ruled in 2005 to again suppress the shirt as evidence. Butler authored the majority opinion.

This is a departure from what U.S. justices decided. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled to suppress statements -- not physical evidence -- taken before Miranda rights were given. So, the issue is more of a constitutional question than a loophole, WISC-TV reported.

It should also be noted that despite the evidence not being included, Knapp was convicted in a jury trial in May 2006 and sentenced to life in prison. The evidence apparently wasn't critical enough to keep a jury from finding him guilty.

The ad goes on to say, "A husband poisoned his wife. Butler cites a loophole, almost jeopardizing the prosecution."

WISC-TV found this claim also needs clarification. WISC-TV previously reported on this case in a "Reality Check" of another WMC ad.

This case also dealt with a major constitutional issue -- the rights of defendants to confront their accusers -- and calling that a loophole isn't accurate.

"Butler doesn't mind being called 'Loophole Louie.' He says it's affectionate," the ad says.

As for the nickname, WISC-TV found that the way it is used needs clarification.

Butler's campaign said this "affectionate nickname" was given to him by colleagues during his lawyer days, not when he was a judge.

One group said that using the name now is inappropriate. A campaign watchdog group put together by the state bar said that using the name is "demeaning to the entire Supreme Court and our judicial system."

The group goes so far to say that any attorney associated with directing this at Butler could be subject to discipline.

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