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Fodness trial set for September in Rusk County

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE — The fifth jury trial for former Colfax resident Michael Fodness has been scheduled for September in Rusk County.

Fodness, 45, is charged with 16 counts of sex crimes against young girls, bail jumping and intimidating a witness.

Fodness’s new attorney, Tom Starr, who is the fifth attorney in the case, appeared in Dunn County Circuit Court with Fodness on May 24 to schedule a new trial.

 A jury trial scheduled May 13 to May 21 in Rusk County was cancelled when Fodness’s fourth attorney, Shirlene Perrin, filed a motion to withdraw from the case because of her daughter’s health problems.

“You are kind of in the driver’s seat,” said the Honorable William Stewart to Starr during the May 24 hearing.

The date set for a new trial will depend on how much time Starr needs to prepare, he said.

“I am obviously trying to get up to speed,” Starr told the court.

Starr said he had received several boxes of material from Perrin and had read the trial transcript and that Fodness had said he would help sift through material to assist his new attorney  in “getting up to speed,” on the case.

Starr said an August trial would give him enough time to read the case file and prepare a defense.

Getting the case to a jury trial soon is important because Fodness has been waiting a long time, but Fodness also needs an attorney who is fully up to speed, Starr said.

Judge Stewart determined that several trial dates might be viable options: the week beginning August 12 and the week beginning September 16.

The judge said his judicial assistant would contact Rusk County to see if any of the proposed trial dates might be workable.

Fodness has been in custody at the Dunn County Jail since October of 2010 and is being held on a $100,000 cash bond.

Francis Rivard was the first attorney to represent Fodness.

Rivard officially began representing Fodness on October 25, 2010, and withdrew from the case on January 3, 2011.

A preliminary hearing had been scheduled on January 3, but Fodness circumvented the hearing by firing Rivard, who had been assigned to the case by the public defender’s office.

The next attorney assigned by the public defender’s office, Kerry Kelm, served for two months, from January 13 to March 15, 2011, until she withdrew from the case because of a conflict of interest.

John Bachman served as Fodness’s attorney from March 18 to March 29, 2011, and also withdrew because of a conflict of interest.

Shirlene Perrin began serving as the attorney on April 4, 2011.

A jury trial for Fodness in Ladysmith in February of this year ended on the second day when Judge Stewart declared a mistrial.

A jury trial scheduled last August was postponed when Fodness was stricken with appendicitis.

A jury trial scheduled a year ago in February was rescheduled to August when both the district attorney and Perrin agreed they needed more time to prepare.

In May of 2011, Fodness asked for a change of venue in the case. Judge Stewart granted the change of venue because of the number of potential alleged victims and their family members. The court district’s chief judge and the district court administrator selected Rusk County as the location for the Fodness trial.

The Fodness case originally was assigned to the Honorable Rod W. Smeltzer, but in March of 2011, the case was re-assigned to Judge Stewart.

As of Friday, May 31, the Fodness trial was on the circuit court schedule for September 16 through September 23.