Judge Oks Use of Past Crime against Priest

By Andy Nelesen
Green Bay Press-Gazette
August 20, 2004

Stein's lawyers say it'll interfere with getting a fair trial

A judge Thursday ruled that prosecutors can use details of a prior sexual-assault conviction and another allegation of abuse in their case against a Norbertine priest accused of molesting a teenage boy at the St. Norbert Abbey in 1988.

Lawyers for James Stein, 44, filed motions to prevent prosecutors from calling witnesses to testify about Stein's conviction for fourth-degree sexual assault in 1991 and an uncharged allegation that he fondled another teenage boy at the abbey in 1989.

Appearing by telephone, attorney Stephen Glynn argued that introducing the other incidents to a jury trying the 1988 case would improperly prejudice the panel and hamper Stein's ability to get a fair trial.

Brown County Assistant District Attorney Dana Johnson argued that the other incidents would show jurors that Stein had a pattern of abusing boys.

"There are far more similarities than dissimilarities," Brown County Circuit Court Judge Sue Bischel said Thursday. "It's all part and parcel to the same kind of activities."

In the current case, Stein faces three counts of second-degree sexual assault of a child for allegedly fondling a 14-year-old Premontre High School student who worked at the school's priory.

The boy, now 29, alleges Stein touched him while they swam and used the hot tub at the St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere.

Johnson plans to call the victim from the 1991 case in which Stein touched a college freshman while in the abbey's pool area.

Stein pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of fourth- degree sexual assault and was placed on probation. Johnson said that investigative notes contained in the file and released to defense lawyers during pre-trial discovery allege that Stein performed oral sex on the man after the touching, but those details were not included in the criminal complaint.

Johnson also plans to call a man who told police Stein touched him inappropriately during a visit to the abbey in spring 1989. The man was either 17 or had just turned 18 at the time of the incident.

Stein was not charged in connection to that incident. Johnson said the statute of limitations had run out. Because the alleged victim was older than the case currently being prosecuted -- and was limited to inappropriate touching -- the incident could only be charged as a misdemeanor, with a shorter statute of limitations than a felony charge.

Bischel ruled the details of the touching could go before jurors, but barred Johnson from introducing testimony about the oral sex.

Jury selection for the two-day trial is set for Aug. 31.

Glynn maintained Stein is innocent. Stein was placed on leave by then-Abbot E. Thomas DeWane in April 2002 and has not served as a priest since.

"What we are saying is it didn't happen," Glynn said. "No contact at all."

Bischel granted Glynn's motion to compel an out-of-state witness to appear at trial, a motion to force prosecutors to refer to Stein's accuser as the "alleged victim" or "complainant," rather than "victim," and to preclude a police officer who took the accuser's statement from opining on whether he believed the account.

Stein's case would not normally come to trial because the statute of limitations -- the deadline by which the crime must be prosecuted -- has expired.

But during pre-trial motions Bischel ruled Stein lived and worked outside of Wisconsin much of the time since the alleged incident. However, Bischel ruled Stein's time out of state did not count against the time limits and ruled prosecution could continue.


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