30-Year-Old Sexual Abuse Case Now Factor in Wisconsin Judicial Race

By Dan Joseph | April 4, 2011 | 3:24 PM EDT

JoAnne Kloppenburg

(CNSNews.com) - Tuesday's election for a spot on the Wisconsin State Supreme Court has received national attention as well as an influx of money from conservative and liberal groups in that state. 

The national interest in the race between incumbent Republican Judge David Prosser and his Democratic challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg will determine the balance of the seven-judge court, which is expected to rule on the legality of controversial state collective bargaining reforms recently passed by Republican Governor Scott Walker. 

The race has become even more heated in recent days following a television ad -- released by the Greater Wisconsin Committee, a left-wing advocacy group -- that accuses Prosser of refusing to prosecute former priest John Patrick Feeney, who had been accused of sexual abuse against two children in 1979.

In response to the ad, one of the victims, Troy J. Merryfield, accused the Greater Wisconsin Committee and Kloppenberg’s supporters of politicizing his sexual abuse for political gain and for taking Prosser’s initial decision not to immediately prosecute Feeney out of context.

In a statement released in response to the Greater Wisconsin ad, Merryfield wrote: “As a victim of the abuse of former priest John Patrick Feeney, I was very upset to see ads and Internet postings by the Greater Wisconsin Committee and supporters of Supreme Court candidate JoAnne Kloppenberg using my court case as a political tool against Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser.”

Merryfield further wrote that Prosser decided not to file charges in order to protect Merryfield and his brother from “the emotional toll that a jury trial” would have had on a child of Merryfield’s age.

Judge David Prosser

He also states that in 2002 a stronger case was brought against Feeney, which included the accusations of Merryfield and his brother, and that Prosser was consulted and he “encouraged the prosecution of Feeney.”

In 2004, Feeney was successfully prosecuted for his sexual abuse of Merryfield and his brother and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Merryfield has called for the Greater Wisconsin Committee to take down the ad. He also has endorsed Prosser.

“As a victim, I find the ad by the Greater Wisconsin Committee to be offensive, inaccurate and out of context,” said Merryfield in his letter.

“I hope all websites, blogs and other purveyors of political information would stop portraying this case inaccurately and out of context,” he said.  “If I were a resident of the State of Wisconsin, I would vote for David Prosser in the upcoming election.”

Merryfield has also appeared in a television ad, produced by a conservative group called Citizens for a Stronger America, in which he criticizes the liberal ad’s apparent inaccuracies and  Kloppenburg’s reluctance to condemn it.

While the ad critical of Prosser does not appear on Kloppenburg’s campaign Web site, her campaign has not disavowed the ad or called for the ad to be removed. In a debate last Tuesday between the two candidates, Kloppenburg defended the Greater Wisconsin Committee’s right to run the ad.

"As Justice Prosser knows, these are third party ads,” said Kloppenburg. “Like it or not, they have a first amendment right to run ads raising issues of their own choosing.”