A Milwaukee family this week called on the state’s largest business lobby to take down a political advertisement because it includes identifying information about child victims of attempted sexual assault.
But the business lobby says it stands by the ad.
The family’s request to Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, which spent about $966,000 to air the ad on television and radio stations statewide, comes in the last days of this year’s Supreme Court race between Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet and Sauk County Judge Michael Screnock.
The ad focuses on a 2011 case Dallet presided over involving Donald Bruce Skenandore, a 71-year-old Milwaukee man who pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree child sexual assault. Dallet accepted prosecutors’ recommendation of a two-year prison sentence and five years of probation instead of applying the maximum penalty of 20 years, which the ad blasted as being too lenient.
The family told WTMJ this week they asked WMC to remove the ad because it identifies the victims’ relationship with Skenandore.
“They are putting our name out there without even realizing what kind of damage they’re doing,” one unidentified family member told WTMJ.
Milwaukee County Deputy District Attorney Matthew Torbenson said the family contacted his office on Tuesday upset that the case was used in the ad with “no consideration for its effects on victims.”
Torbenson, who briefly worked with Dallet in the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, said the ad campaign “disgracefully identifies the relationship of the offender to his victims, thereby re-victimizing the victims and family for political gain.”
Attorney General Brad Schimel also expressed concerns to WMC on Wednesday about using information that could identify victims of crime, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
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WMC stands by the ad, saying it uses information already available publicly in court records and that voters should be informed of the sentence. Screnock, on whose behalf WMC is spending money, did not directly criticize the ad and said elections work best when everyone who wishes to engage can, according to the Journal Sentinel.
The WMC Issues Mobilization Council, which produces the advertisements, defended the ad’s content, saying “this particular communication merely repeats publicly available information from public records and information that has already been reported on by several news organizations. ... (The council) believes it is important for the public to be aware of Judge Dallet’s repeated instances of giving light sentences to criminals who abuse children.”
The Journal Sentinel reported Dallet’s sentence and details of the case in January, but did not identify the victims’ relationship to the offender, however.
Skenandore, who is homeless, is now considered a non-compliant sex offender and is in the Milwaukee County Jail for failing to report to his parole agent, according to DOC spokesman Tristan Cook.
In a statement, Dallet said, “It is heartbreaking to see the pain this family is experiencing because of this attack ad. What’s truly shocking is that Michael Screnock won’t speak out against the re-victimization of these children. His silence displays a lack of moral character, and he apparently doesn’t have the judicial experience to know this is wrong.”
Sean Lansing, a spokesman for Screnock, said “as a sitting judge and a candidate for our state’s highest court, it would be inappropriate for Judge Screnock to comment on the validity of third party issue ads since this is a topic that is regularly debated and litigated and could very well make its way to the high court.”
Lansing also said Screnock has personally only produced one television ad that was “positive” and focused on Screnock’s work experience and judicial philosophy.
He also noted Dallet and the Greater Wisconsin Committee are running advertisements blasting Screnock and his record on child crimes, too. Those ads do not include identifying information of victims, however.
Meanwhile, liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, which has worked to discredit Screnock, sent a letter to WMC’s Board of Directors, saying it would work to reach out to business members of the board and their customers if the ad is not taken down.