Journal Sentinel, September 16, 1998
Caged girl, not parents, needs judge's sympathy
By William Janz
Lately, newspapers have leveled entire forests just so we had enough newsprint to detail presidential sexcapades. I'm sorry all that innocent timber had to die, because I didn't read Kenneth Starr's report.
However, I haven't been able to escape the story because television anchors have anchored themselves to this shooting Starr. And we've all heard them shout:
"President Clinton has done it with cigars, Hula-Hoops, bowling balls and peanut butter. Meanwhile, 500,000 Chinese have drowned in a flood. Now, back to Bill and Monica . . ." I know I don't have the proper perspective, that I should be interested in how much President Clinton enjoyed sex while skipping rope. But I already know he's a professional cad, whose legacy has been underlined by the sound of his zipper. So I won't learn anything by reading hundreds of paragraphs cluttered with cigar wrappers.
Many of us -- I hope most of us -- have been more interested in a frightful local story in which a judge used his enormous power to do absolutely nothing. Last week, Circuit Judge Steven Weinke (who elected him?), of Fond du Lac County, sentenced a so-called mother, and a so-called father, who treated their 7-year-old daughter as a wild animal and locked her in a tiny cage.
Judge Weinke (who elected him?) sentenced Michael and Angeline Rogers of Brillion to one year and counseling. But that sentence wasn't quite light enough, so the judge said that the couple could leave jail for work and, of course, counseling, which will probably turn them into Dr. Spock.
In effect, the judge sentenced Mr. and Mrs. Rogers to a year in bed. They have to sleep at the jail, but, hey, you gotta sleep some place. Even child abusers get tired of what they're doing.
Calumet County District Attorney Kenneth Kratz had recommended that the couple be sentenced to 20 years in prison, but apparently the judge thought the cage was a parenting tool.
The sentence couldn't have been more shocking if Mr. and Mrs. Rogers had been permitted to sentence themselves. Even they would probably have been tougher.
I know many scholarly, courageous and correct judges, and I think most of them would hold Weinke in contempt.
Mr. and Mrs. Rogers were sentenced by this Fond du Lac County judge (who elected him?) because they contended they could not get a fair trial in Calumet County, where they live. So their case was assigned to Weinke's court, where the girl, and the public, couldn't get a fair trial.
During July, a Janesville judge, sick of a man who preyed on the helpless, sentenced him to 12 years in prison, partly because of this dangerous man's record, which included child sexual abuse. But the man's actual sentence was for killing cats.
Maybe if this guy returns to killing cats when he gets out of prison, he'll do it in Fond du Lac County because the judge there won't even sentence parents who locked a kid in a cage so small that even a 10-pound dog would whine.
We know, judge, (who elected you?) that you gave Mr. and Mrs. Rogers a severe tongue-lashing, which must have caused them a shiver or two. And we know that you admonished them that if the girl had died, they would have been charged with murder "and, without doubt, going to prison."
Unless you sentenced them.
Sure, you threatened them with all sorts of prison time if they messed up, but how does a parent mess up any worse than confining a child in a cage?
We also read that you announced you expected your decision to be unpopular. That's the only thing you got right, judge.
"I'm a lightning rod in this case," you said. "If I'm to be a victim, so be it."
Judge, there's only one victim. The one who shook the bars and screamed.
Call Bill Janz at 224-2170, write him at P.O. Box 661, Milwaukee, WI 53201, or e-mail him at wjanzonwis.com.