A former Verona substitute teacher accused of improperly touching two students was released from jail Thursday after posting bail that was reduced.
Dustin D. Schallert, 30, of Madison, also waived his right to a preliminary hearing before Dane County Circuit Judge Shelley Gaylord and was ordered to stand trial on charges of sexual assault of a child under 13 and sexual assault of a child under 16. He will formally enter pleas to the charges at a later date.
Gaylord agreed to reduce Schallert’s bail from $25,000 to $3,000 at the request of Schallert’s lawyer, Mark Eisenberg. She also agreed to somewhat unusual monitoring of Schallert after his release from bail because a county program normally offered to many defendants is not available due to capacity issues caused by ongoing court-ordered measures to mitigate the possible spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Eisenberg argued that others who faced charges similar to those Schallert faces were subjected to higher bail amounts because they had extensive criminal histories, while Schallert’s criminal record is non-existent.
Assistant District Attorney William Brown agreed Schaller’s bail should be lowered, but didn’t take a position on any specific bail amount.
Schallert was arrested March 7 for alleged incidents on March 5 and 6 in which students said he inappropriately touched them during classes at Badger Ridge Middle School.
Gaylord ordered Schallert to be confined to his apartment, where he would be checked regularly by his parents. Schallert’s father also agreed to administer random alcohol breath tests to Schallert using a store-bought breathalyzer.
Gaylord also agreed that Schallert may leave his apartment if he is accepted into an alcohol or mental health treatment program. Eisenberg said Schallert has struggled with alcohol.
Gaylord agreed to set the unusual bail conditions for Schallert because the Dane County Pretrial Services program, operated by the Clerk of Courts office, is currently not accepting new clients under an order signed Wednesday by Circuit Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn that suspends referrals to the program.
Ordinarily, in a case like Schallert’s, a judge would order that a defendant, if released from jail, report to Pretrial Services for a GPS monitor or alcohol monitoring. But with the temporary order in place suspending referrals, that was not an option for Schallert.
Pretrial Services staff is working from home because of new coronavirus protocols mandating social distancing. Bailey-Rihn said Thursday that fitting monitoring equipment, such as anklets, to Pretrial Services clients also requires close contact. Instead, she said, judges for now are setting “reasonable terms” and releasing some defendants who might normally be monitored by Pretrial Services.
Clerk of Court Carlo Esqueda said Thursday that the Pretrial Services program is operating close to capacity. Current clients are not leaving the program, as they normally would, because court functions are partially curtailed due to court-ordered COVID-19 protocols, delaying sentencing hearings in some cases indefinitely.
“If they kept getting new referrals without anyone being able to leave the program, it would have quickly become untenable,” Esqueda said in an email Thursday.
He said there was some concern about a jail population increase if new defendants who otherwise would be released on signature bonds cannot be admitted to Pretrial Services.
But Sheriff David Mahoney said Thursday he doesn’t believe that would happen. Judges and prosecutors, he said, have been releasing people from jail who don’t absolutely have to be there to mitigate inmate exposure to COVID-19.
Bailey-Rihn said some of those released have included, for example, people jailed for failure to pay child support, and others who don’t pose a public safety risk.
Adam Plotkin, spokesman for the state Public Defender’s Office, whose attorneys represent most defendants at initial court appearances and bail hearings, said Thursday that attorneys believe the Pretrial Services restriction to be temporary.
“If it becomes a long-term lack of access, that may become a problem, and we’d have to re-examine it,” Plotkin said.