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Madison attorney tabbed for judgeship vacancy; Wheeler man survives 42-foot fall; more state news

Madison attorney James Peterson has been nominated for a federal judgeship that's been vacant for four years, due to political bickering. President Obama named Peterson yesterday to replace the late John Shabaz in a federal district court that serves the western half of Wisconsin.

Peterson is a shareholder in the law firm of Godfrey & Kahn. He was one of three candidates recommended by the state's two U.S. senators and a bi-partisan nominating commission. Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin said Peterson would make an excellent judge.

The post has been vacant since 2009, as Obama tried four times to get the Senate to confirm former State Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler. Each nomination got tied up in a Senate committee, where Democrats hailed Butler's qualifications while Republicans questioned them -- especially after he lost a Supreme Court election in 2008. Butler later became a law instructor at U-W Madison. Judge Shabaz died last year.

Peterson's bio on his firm's web site states he is the leader of the firm’s intellectual property litigation group. He has also argued appeals before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. He earned his law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1998 and served as the law clerk to the Honorable David G. Deininger of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.

Peterson also teaches copyright law as a member of the adjunct faculty of the University of Wisconsin Law School and holds a Ph.D. in communication from the University of Wisconsin in 1986. Prior to his career in law, Jim was a faculty member at the University of Notre Dame, where he taught film and television history.

Baldwin euphoric over historic sexual-orientation vote WASHINGTON D.C. -- Senator Tammy Baldwin says she'll never forget Thursday. Baldwin -- the first open lesbian in the U-S Senate -- helped pass a resolution to ban job discrimination against gay, bi-sexual, and transgender workers.

Democrat Baldwin co-sponsored the measure, which passed 62 to 34. Wisconsin's other senator, Republican Ron Johnson, voted no.

Baldwin said her colleagues sent a powerful message that "folks like myself" want to be judged by their work performance, and not their sexual orientation. She noted that Wisconsin was the first in the nation to pass a state law to that effect in 1982. Twenty states and Washington D-C have passed similar bans since then.

Johnson said gays were occasionally harassed at the company in Oshkosh he used to own -- and he made it clear the harassers were the only ones susceptible to losing their jobs. However, Johnson said the proposed nationwide discrimination ban was flawed. He said it would create vague burdens on employers, and provide too narrow of a religious exemption. Johnson said the measure would spur lawsuits and keep people from being hired.

The Republican-controlled House is not expected to consider the measure, although Madison House Democrat Mark Pocan wishes it would. Pocan, who is openly gay, says the bill's principles are so fundamental that most Americans already believe it's the law.

Walker mum on whether he'll sign mascot bill MADISON -- Gov. Scott Walker has not said whether he'll sign a bill making it harder to order Wisconsin schools to drop their Indian team names and mascots. The Republican Walker was asked about the subject Thursday. He said it was "not on my radar."

The Senate gave final legislative approval to the Republican measure on Tuesday, after the Assembly okayed the same bill last month.

It would water down a complaint process approved by Democrats in 2009 that resulted in three school districts being ordered to drop their Indian monikers. Some others dropped their names voluntarily, to avoid going through the complaint process.

Lawmakers will delay WEDC funding request MADISON -- Lawmakers say they need more time to consider a new funding request from the state's job creation agency.

The Joint Finance Committee postponed a meeting this week to consider $44 million in new funding for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation through mid-2015.

The panel was also supposed to consider approving a new foundation. It would let the WEDC can receive private tax-deductible donations to boost economic development.

Republican finance chairman John Nygren said he's been meeting with corporation officials to learn more about how the foundation would operate. He said there needs to be strong state government oversight of the foundation, and the agency itself.

Earlier this year, the finance panel decided to hold onto $63 million earmarked for the WEDC, and to dole it out once the agency took better control of its finances. Now, the agency is asking for $44 million of that. The other $18 million-plus would come from a department surplus.

Elections head testifies in photo ID challenge MILWAUKEE -- The head of the state elections agency said it was a real challenge to train 1,850 municipal clerks about the voter identification law.

Kevin Kennedy testified Thursday at a trial in Milwaukee, in which the ACLU and minority groups are challenging the constitutionality of the photo ID mandate.

Under the plaintiffs' questioning, Kennedy said it was never easy to pass on all the details of the law to a group that represents about one-sixth of all clerks in the country.

Unlike most states, Wisconsin lets municipalities run elections instead of the much fewer counties. With over 30,000 poll workers statewide, Kennedy said it was human nature to have glitches -- like not having some voters sign poll books, or signing on the wrong lines.

Kennedy's agency is a defendant in the lawsuit, because it enforces what the Republican governor and Legislature passed in 2011. The trial is going into its fifth day in federal court in Milwaukee. It's expected to continue for another week.

Part of the law -- but not all of it -- was struck down in 2012 by two state judges. Plaintiffs contend the photo ID requirement discourages the poor and minorities from voting, because of their difficulty to get ID's.

Kennedy said he proposed letting those without ID's vote by signing sworn statements affirming the identities, with criminal penalties for lying. He said "The Legislature chose not to adopt that."

Wheeler man survives 43-foot fall amid construction accident A construction worker who fell from an Interstate bridge project near La Crosse was identified yesterday as 19-year-old Logan Goodell of Wheeler in western Wisconsin. Officials have not provided an update on his condition. Goodell had surgery the day of Wednesday's incident, which occurred on the Dresbach bridge on I-90 over the Mississippi River at the Wisconsin-Minnesota border.

WXOW TV in La Crosse quoted a Winona County sheriff's report which said that Goodell was removing framework that was set up to pour concrete, when he stepped backward, and fell 42 feet into a coffer-dam below.

The report said the employee -- who works for Ames Construction -- was wearing a harness, but it was not being used properly. Winona County deputies are investigating, along with Ames Construction and the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

The Dresbach bridge is replacing an outdated structure. The new one is due to open in 2016.

Cold weather means increasing census at homeless shelters A brief cold snap has Wisconsin homeless shelters bracing for more business.

The demand for emergency housing remains relatively high, and the Emergency Shelter in Appleton is trying to get other shelters in the Fox Valley to work together.

Jerome Martin says there are a half-dozen homeless shelters from Oshkosh to Green Bay -- and they can keep people off the streets if they combine their efforts.

The Fox Valley Warming Shelter has been busy this year, with more 10,000 overnight stays for the year ending Sept. 1st. That's about a-third more than the previous year.

Overnight temperatures dipped into the teens this week for the first time this fall. It was 12 degrees in Hayward at 7 a.m., Friday -- and it was 15 as far south as Sparta. River Falls recorded 19 degrees.

Forecasters say a new front will keep Friday night's lows in the mid-to-upper-30's statewide, with a new chance of rain and-or light snow in the north into tomorrow.

Highs are expected to be in the 40's each day through the weekend, with a slight cool-down on Veterans' Day Monday.

Wausau police, FBI team up on alleged Mexican kidnapping probe The FBI and Wausau Police are checking out some disturbing new details about the disappearance of a woman nine years ago who has since turned up in Mexico.

Connie McCallister, 25, told police on Wednesday she went to a party in the Milwaukee or Chicago areas in 2004 with her ex-boyfriend Freddie Ruiz. She believed she was drugged and kidnapped because the next thing she knew, she was in Mexico.

Wausau Police said McCallister never mentioned anything about an abduction when they first talked in September. At that time, McCallister said she had three children with a subsequent man whom she married -- and she wanted to return to the U.S. with the kids.

Wausau Police said they'd provide the new information to the FBI, and keep trying to bring her home as she wishes. If she returns to Wausau, officials say they'll question her about why she left with Ruiz. At the time, she told her mother they were fine -- and they wouldn't say where they were.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Stomach flu closes Kenosha County school KENOSHA -- The Trevor-Wilmot School in Kenosha County is closed Friday after a stomach virus sickened almost 75 youngsters.

Officials say the school has been dealing with ailments suffered by both students and staff members.

Around 70 kindergarten-through-eighth graders either stayed home or were sent home Thursday. Health officials say they do not believe the illnesses were caused by some type of food.

A cleaning company is scrubbing the building from top-to-bottom today, and it's expected to re-open on Monday.

Teacher answering charges of theft, marijuana possession RHINELANDER -- A Rhinelander High School English teacher is due in court today for allegedly stealing electronic items from the school, and growing marijuana at his home.

Joshua Juergens, 35, was arrested Wednesday at his home near Rhinelander. Oneida County Sheriff Grady Hartman said a search warrant was executed at Juergens' home, where they found undisclosed items that were suspected to be stolen -- plus a growing operation with numerous marijuana plants. No charges have been filed in that case yet.

Juergens did appear in Oneida County Circuit Court Thursday on a separate disorderly conduct charge. A $500 bond was set in that matter.

Rhinelander assistant school superintendent Dave Wall said he had no reason to believe that other people were involved -- and that staff members and students were never put in jeopardy from the incidents.

Officials said Juergens joined the Rhinelander district in August.

-- Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

Girl's bicyle found but she remains missing A search continues for a 15-year-old girl missing since Tuesday in Waukesha County.

Kathryn Stalbaum of the town of Genesee missed her school bus, and she texted a friend that she would ride her bicycle to Kettle Moraine High.

On Thursday, the teal bicycle was found. Sheriff's officials would not say where. They said they've found no immediate signs of foul play, but they have no idea what might have happened to Stalbaum -- or where she might be.

School officials alerted the girl's parents after she failed to show up on Tuesday morning.

The parents were searching for their daughter when they saw a sheriff's deputy on patrol, and reported her missing.

Investigators say they've combed through cell-phones and social media accounts to look for clues, but they won't say if they found anything worthwhile.

On Sunday night, Great Mission Church of Wales is holding prayer vigil to show support for Stalbaum and her family.

Woman's remains found near Dresser finally identified A woman whose body was found in northwest Wisconsin 20 years ago has finally been identified.

A hunter found the remains of Pearline Walton in November of 1993 near Dresser in Polk County. She was last seen in Minneapolis in the summer of 1993.

Walton was 22 back then.

Recently, Minnesota's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension began a statewide project to identify dozens of human remains. Walton was the first, after her family provided DNA that matched the woman.

The bureau's assistant superintendent, Drew Evans, said there was a belief that Walton was murdered -- but he could not comment on the specifics of the investigation. Evans said the identification has brought some closure to Walton's family in Minneapolis.

Polk County Sheriff Pete Johnson said the identifying of Walton is a very important step as it continues to investigate.

-- Minnesota News Network

DNR seeks public input on forest management plans MADISON -- The Wisconsin DNR has drawn up forest management plans for five state-owned properties throughout Wisconsin -- and officials want to find out what the public thinks about them.

Until the master plans are finished, sites would continue to be certified as sustainably-managed as timber is removed.

The five properties include state wildlife areas at Waunakee in Dane County, Moose Lake in Iron County, Albany in Green County, and Spring Creek in Price County. The other site is Kohler-Andrae State Park in Sheboygan County.

The DNR will take public comments through Nov. 19th.