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    Supreme Court May Decide Whether Courts Can Void Marriage After Spouse's Death

    Joe Forward
    Legal Writer

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    Supreme Court May Decide Whether Court Can Void 
Marriage After Spouse’s Death Oct. 31, 2012 – The Wisconsin Supreme Court has accepted six new cases for review, including consolidated cases involving a circuit court’s authority to declare a marriage void after a spouse has died.

    The former step-children of Nancy Laubenheimer are entitled to an estimated $768,000 under her will, but only if the court declares her marriage to Joseph McLeod void. They accuse McLeod of marrying Laubenheimer when she was incapacitated.

    In its certification to the supreme court, the appeals court identifies the dilemma: Protecting incapacitated individuals from marriage to “the unscrupulous Lothario or seductress” versus preventing those who contest valid marriages from “gaming the tax code in probate court.”

    In McLeod v. Mudlaff, the supreme court is expected to clarify applications of Wis. Stat. sections 767.313(2) and 765.21 after one spouse dies. The former statute bars courts from annulling marriages after a party to the marriage dies. That latter provision invalidates a marriage if one party is incompetent to enter the marriage at the time of the marriage.

    Other Accepted Cases

    In Brown v. Acuity, the Wisconsin Supreme Court will examine whether a voluntary firefighter who ran a red light on the way to the fire station is entitled to governmental immunity for tort liability. The firefighter’s vehicle was equipped with emergency lights but not a siren.

    In response to an emergency call, the firefighter’s vehicle collided with another vehicle. The firefighter, the fire department, and their insurers assert that under Wis. Stat. section 893.80(4), governmental immunity applied because he was acting in the scope of employment.

    In State v. Steffes, the supreme court examines issues arising from a prison phone-bill scam. While a prison inmate, Matthew Steffes made more than 320 calls on so-called “burn out” lines totaling 6,562 minutes (109 hours) at an estimated cost of $26,000 that was never paid.

    He was charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit theft of property exceeding $10,000 in value by fraud. The state said Steffes was working with another inmate, who worked with outside individuals to acquire phone numbers in fictitious or stolen names.

    Steffes says he never made an express promise to pay the telephone company, and the “theft by fraud” statute requires a defendant to make an affirmative promise to pay.

    The supreme court will examine what constitutes interrogation and custody under Miranda in State v. Lonkoski, a case in which Matthew Lonkoski was convicted of recklessly causing great bodily harm to a child and neglecting a child resulting in the child’s death.

    An autopsy revealed that Lonkoski’s 10-month-old had a deadly amount of morphine and hydromorphone in her system when she died. Detectives interviewed Lonkoski and the mother of the child. Eventually, Lonkoski told police he wanted a lawyer.

    However, after police told him he was under arrest and read him his Miranda rights, Lonkowski kept talking and made incriminating statements, particularly that he and a friend were using morphine around the time of his daughter’s death. On appeal, Lonkoski argues that police violated his Miranda rights and his motion to suppress evidence should have been granted.

    Finally, in Prent Corp. v. LIRC & Regina Leach, the supreme court will review a decision by the Labor and Industry Review Commission and whether Prent Corp. had a reasonable basis for not paying the full amount of a worker’s compensation awarded to a former employee.

    LIRC ruled that Prent unreasonably refused to rehire Leach after she took Family and Medical Leave, and awarded the maximum statutory penalty of $30,706. Prent did not pay on time, and deducted temporary disability wage reimbursements when it did. This offset was not allowed.

    LIRC then affirmed an administrative law judge’s decision to award Leach $30,000 in bad faith damages based on Prent Corporation’s failure to timely pay. Prent argues it had a reasonable basis for offsetting the temporary disability payments, and thus it did not act in bad faith.

    Summaries are derived from full summaries posted on the Wisconsin Court system website. 

    Joe Forward is the legal writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin.