St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Edward Vlack admonished a Kinnickinnic Town Board member who had told authorities he was within his rights to shoot a dog to death.
"Sir, we have laws for a reason," the judge told David J. Nelson, before sentencing him to a fine for the misdemeanor offense of intentionally killing a dog.
In sentencing Nelson Thursday Dec. 21, Vlack stopped at several points to remind the town official about the law and to add context to statements about the June 23 incident that left a neighbor's dog dead.
Nelson's defense attorney Joel Larimore began his argument in support of Nelson, saying his client regretted the incident. Everyone regrets what they've done when they're sitting in front of a judge, Vlack interjected.
Nelson spoke to the cops about the incident, Larimore said.
"You mean law enforcement?" Vlack said, interrupting the lawyer.
Yes, Larimore replied, later noting that it was Nelson who called law enforcement about the shooting. True, Vlack interjected — but noted the criminal complaint stated Nelson sought to make the report anonymously.
The back-and-forth exchanges continued while Nelson delivered his statement to the court. He began by saying he regretted the incident, calling it a "high-stress" situation. But Nelson said the police report contained "inconsistencies."
Vlack told him to explain himself. After conferring with Larimore, Nelson said the dog had been witnessed chasing his cattle earlier in the day.
Vlack told Nelson to listen carefully as he explained his familiarity with the law after serving as a lawyer since 1974 and a judge since 2001.
"I don't care who you are, who you know, what you do," Vlack told Nelson. "Do you understand that?"
The judge then recounted statements from the report in which Nelson told a St. Croix County sheriff's sergeant he'd shoot any dog that comes on his property. Vlack also noted how the report states Nelson admitted he'd first apprised the Kinnickinnic Town Board chairman of the situation. The township would "back him," the judge said, referencing the statement.
Vlack said he wanted to be sure Nelson was aware of the law to which he pleaded guilty on Dec. 14 and "not what the law you think it is."
"My moral fiber says you should go to jail," Vlack told Nelson before noting that the 55-year-old absence of a criminal record prevents that penalty.
The judge said he's not allowed to sentence people based on emotion — only the law.
"Don't forget that," Vlack said.
The hearing included a brief statement from the girlfriend of Mike Reihl, whose black Labrador Sam was shot by Nelson. Kayla White-Kusilek said she and Reihl approved of Nelson's plea.
"There is a little bit of justice for Sam today," she said.
Vlack's sentence calls for Nelson to pay a $1,000 fine in addition to $2,000 in restitution he's already paid Reihl. Nelson is also to participate in a restorative justice program if Reihl or White-Kusilek so choose.