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Judge says ‘no’ to new attorney for Beth Mittelstadt

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE — A Dunn County judge has denied a request for a new attorney from a 44-year-old Colfax woman found guilty of criminal damage to property and recklessly endangering safety.

Beth M. Mittelstadt, who was found guilty in connection with a fire at a Colfax residence and threatening the Colfax police chief with a machete, appeared in Dunn County Circuit Court July 2 with her attorney, John Bachman, after writing a letter to Judge Rod Smeltzer stating that she wanted a new attorney.

A presentence investigation currently is being conducted, and a sentencing hearing is scheduled for September 29.

Mittelstadt’s attorney is the second public defender who has been assigned to the case.

Mittelstadt appeared in court April 9 with the first public defender assigned to her case, Dan Chapman, and said that she wanted a new attorney and at the same time asked for a speedy trial.

Judge Smeltzer, under the requirements of state law for a speedy trial, scheduled a trial in June on the felony charge of arson related to a fire at a house on East Third Avenue in Colfax in May of 2014.

Katie Bundy and her children lived at the address, although no one was home at the time of the fire.

Mittelstadt initially was charged with felony counts of arson and attempted murder and recklessly endangering safety, but a plea deal June 10 ended up in the charges being reduced to felony criminal damage to property and two felony counts of recklessly endangering safety.

Judge Smeltzer noted at the July 2 hearing that he had already accepted Mittelstadt’s plea of no contest and had found her guilty and had scheduled a sentencing hearing.

When the PSI is available, Bachman will discuss the report with Mittelstadt and will work with his client to determine sentencing arguments, Judge Smeltzer said.

According to the state’s rules for public defenders, a defendant can only fire one attorney and can only be assigned one new attorney after that, Bachman said.

The rules do not allow the public defender’s office to assign a third attorney to a case without a court order, he said.

Mittelstadt told Judge Smeltzer that she has many questions about sentencing and is not getting any information. She also said she is not interested in changing her plea.

Between now and September 29, there is plenty of time for Bachman to discuss the PSI with Mittelstadt and to formulate a strategy for the sentencing hearing, Judge Smeltzer said.

“I don’t meant to be difficult,” Mittelstadt said.

Bachman was assigned to the case April 4, and Mittelstadt said she only saw him two times before the May 29 final pre-trial hearing that had been scheduled prior to the arson trial June 18 and June 19.

Mittelstadt she had asked Bachman for legal advice because “I don’t have the knowledge.”

“I am relying 100 percent on this man, and he has not helped me,” she said.

Judge Smeltzer said that he was expecting Bachman to spend time with Mittelstadt, to answer her questions and to review the PSI when it is available.

“You have a right to an attorney but you do not have a right to an attorney of your own choosing,” Judge Smeltzer said.

When the judge said that he was going to deny Mittelstadt’s request for a new attorney, Mittelstadt said in that case, she wanted to represent herself.

Judge Smeltzer said he would not allow Mittelstadt to represent herself.

Mittelstadt said she had left many messages for Bachman to contact her.

“He has not answered one telephone call,” Mittelstadt said.

Judge Smeltzer remained firm in his decision that he was not going to order a new attorney for Mittelstadt and that he was not going to let her represent herself.

Mittelstadt is in custody at the Dunn County jail on a $10,000 cash bond.

During the April 9 court hearing, Mittelstadt said she wanted to fire Chapman, the first public defender assigned to her case, because he had not communicated with her often enough.