Priest Will Go to Trial in Abuse Case
By Andy Nelesen
Green Bay Press-Gazette
April 29, 2004
Statute of limitations not applicable, judge rules
The statute of limitations has not run out in the case against a Norbertine priest accused of molesting a 14-year-old boy in 1988, a Brown County judge ruled Tuesday.
The time limit to prosecute sexual-assault charges is typically six years, but Brown County Circuit Court Judge Sue Bischel ruled that the Rev. James Stein lived outside of Wisconsin long enough to allow for prosecution. The statute of limitations laws do not apply if the suspect is not "publicly a resident within the state."
In her ruling, Bischel said she interpreted the statute of limitations law using the common language definitions and said the facts of the case were not in question.
At a hearing in January, Stein's lawyer argued that Stein was in Wisconsin a total of 1,136 days of the last 12 years. During the rest of the time, he was living in either Illinois or Mississippi, teaching, attending school or providing counseling.
Stein was a faculty member at then Premontre High School in Green Bay (currently Green Bay Notre Dame Academy) from August 1986 to June 1989. The alleged victim, now 30 years old, said Stein molested him during trips with Stein to swim at the St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere.
The alleged victim told authorities that Stein fondled him while they sat in the hot tub at the Abbey and again in the shower. Stein allegedly fondled the boy again at the Abbey about a month later.
Stein's lawyer had moved to dismiss the case, claiming that Stein had maintained his Wisconsin driver's license and teaching certificates, paid Wisconsin taxes and was called for jury duty in Brown County.
Bischel ruled that Stein himself admitted that he only "vacationed" in Wisconsin and lived in other states for nearly 12 years.
"Although the defendant was publicly within Wisconsin on 1,136 days, he was not a resident of Wisconsin within the ordinary meaning of that term," Bischel wrote.
Bischel cited a court ruling that upheld similar rulings in cases where people made trips back to Wisconsin, but did not live here.
"In determining the plain meaning of the phrase 'publicly a resident within the state,' I must consider where the defendant openly lived or occupied a home," Bischel wrote. "(Stein's) personal belongings remained in Illinois and Mississippi. Moreover he attended school and worked in Illinois and Mississippi. He did not live in Wisconsin, but rather visited it."
Brown County Assistant District Attorney Dana Johnson and Stein's lawyer, Milwaukee-based attorney Stephen Glynn, were not available for comment Wednesday.
Stein is due back in court for a hearing in August with a trial scheduled for Aug. 31. If convicted on the three sexual assault charges, Stein faces up to 30 years in prison.
PG correction: The Rev. James Stein was a member of the faculty at Premontre High School from August 1986 to June 1989. 4/30/04
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