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Appeals court reverses judge's sentence

An appeals court found a St. Croix judge showed "objective bias" when he warned a man that if he violated probation, he would get a stiff sentence and then followed through with the promise.

In a decision filed Tuesday, the District III Court of Appeals reversed a sentence imposed by Judge Eric Lundell and sent James Robert Thomas, 37, Star Prairie, back to court for resentencing by a different St. Croix County judge.

In March 2008 Thomas pled guilty to disorderly conduct and misdemeanor bail jumping, both as a repeater. Lundell withheld sentence and placed Thomas on probation.

During that sentencing hearing, Lundell told Thomas that if his probation were revoked, he would get the maximum sentence.

"I'll tell you one thing, you deserve --you probably deserve prison time for what you've done collectively," said Lundell during that hearing. "But I'm going to give (you) the rope here, a leeway here, but you're not going to get any more easy sentencing from me.

"You've told me that in the past, and I got talked into that. But today you're --coherent as I've ever seen you, so I feel you're going to try to make this work. But if it doesn't work, it's just incarceration, whether it's jail or prison, it really doesn't matter to me."

When Thomas' probation was revoked in March 2009, Lundell imposed the maximum sentence for each offense and ordered them served consecutively. Those sentences totaled three years in prison followed by six months of extended supervision.

Lundell ended his sentencing remarks by saying, "(You've) done lots of bad things over a course of time, and eventually you have to pay for those things, and this is the time that you're going to have to pay for those things."

The court found Lundell did not demonstrate actual bias on the record, but that a reasonable person would conclude from his warning that he had made up his mind about the sentence before the sentencing hearing.

The appeals court concluded, "Because this constitutes an objective appearance of bias that reveals a great risk of actual bias, we must reverse for resentencing