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Lawyer cleared of misconduct allegations

Madison — A man whose 10-year prison sentence on sexual assault charges was thrown out because of a prosecutor’s actions will remain free despite a state Supreme Court decision Tuesday that cleared the district attorney of misconduct in the case.Former Vilas County District Attorney Steve Lucareli was accused by one judge of a “truly evil scheme” in the prosecution of John Lettice for the sexual assault of a 3-year-old girl.Three days before the trial began, Lucareli charged defense attorney Dennis Burgy with publicly disclosing a confidential patient health care record, specifically the handwritten notes of a psychologist who examined the girl.Lucareli moved to disqualify Burgy as Lettice’s attorney because of a conflict of interest, but the judge denied the request and allowed the trial to continue.After Lettice, 57, of Boulder Junction, was convicted on two counts of first-degree sexual assault, Lucareli dropped the charge against Burgy.Lettice moved for a new trial, arguing that Lucareli had interfered with Burgy’s ability to properly defend him by charging Burgy right before the trial. Burgy testified he was unable to sleep for two days before the trial because he was preoccupied with the charge against him.Circuit Judge James Mohr ordered a new trial, ruling that Lucareli’s decision to charge Burgy was “wrong, unnecessary and not based on probable cause.”It was determined that Lucareli did not have probable cause to charge Burgy, because the trial judge had ruled six months before the trial that the psychologist’s notes were not confidential.An appeals court upheld the lower court’s ruling for a new trial. However, the new circuit judge dismissed the case, saying that trying Lettice twice for the same crime would violate his constitutional rights. The appeals court agreed, and the state did not move to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.The Board of Attorneys Professional Responsibility recommended disciplinary action against Lucareli, saying he should have known that the charges against Burgy were baseless.Lucareli argued that he and others involved in the case had forgotten about the earlier ruling that the psychology records were not confidential. That ruling was based on the fact that the psychologist was not the victim’s doctor but had been asked by the state to evaluate her.Lucareli said Tuesday the reason he charged Burgy was because he believed the defense attorney broke the law when he disclosed the medical records.A referee appointed by the Supreme Court decided that Lucareli’s motives were not malicious but based on his belief that the records were confidential. The Supreme Court upheld the referee’s decision Tuesday after an appeal by the Board of Attorneys Professional Responsibility.Lucareli said he felt vindicated by the court’s decision.“I feel like Robin Hood who has beaten back an attack from the king’s most evil men,” he said.Lucareli said he spent more than $75,000 on private attorneys who represented him in the case. He lost re-election in November 1994 and set up a private practice in Eagle River.“I am terribly disappointed that the 12 people who gave their time to sit on the jury in (the victim’s) case were robbed of their unanimous verdict, and I am troubled by the fact that the person they convicted was never held accountable for his actions,” Lucareli said.When the appeals court refused to grant state prosecutors a new trial in July 1998, state Department of Justice spokesman Jim Haney said that “what the prosecutor in this case did was substantial misconduct. … Even if this decision is allowed to stand, it is hopefully a decision that is only going to apply to an exceptional case.”When asked Tuesday about the dismissal of misconduct allegations against Lucareli, Justice Department spokesman Randy Romanski said the state had no comment.

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