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Sunday, February 1, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 26.0° F  Light Snow Fog/Mist
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A sex offender Catch-22
Is it fair to make a homeless man report where he lives?
on
Parish: 'Sometimes I sleep in front of the church.'
Parish: 'Sometimes I sleep in front of the church.'

James W. Parish is charged with felony failure to update his residence information with the state Sex Offender Registry, which carries up to a $10,000 fine and/or six years in prison. But the 49-year-old Madison man has what his attorney thinks is a good excuse: There's no residence to report.

'He's homeless,' says Milt Rosenberg, a semi-retired local lawyer who is representing Parish. 'He's done everything he can to comply.'

Parish was convicted in two counties of second-degree sexual assault for having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl in 1989, the year Parish turned 32. The girl testified in court that Parish never threatened or forced her. He served nearly two years in prison and ended up having to register as a sex offender.

'He's not a pedophile,' insists Rosenberg, searching for a better word to describe his client. 'He's...hapless.'

In the last 15 years, online records show, Parish has had only one criminal conviction ' a misdemeanor charge of failing to register in 2003, for which he served a brief jail term. Parish, who Rosenberg says has significant mental health problems, is now staying mainly at the shelter run by Grace Episcopal.

'Sometimes I sleep out in front of the church so I save my days,' says Parish, referring to the shelter's 90-days-per-year stay limit. 'That way, when it does get colder, I can have more days.'

Wisconsin's online Sex Offender Registry lists Parish's address as Grace Episcopal. But guests may not receive mail there so, for some time, Parish has had mail sent to Safe Haven, a UW-affiliated psychiatric facility. In March, a letter from the state Registry to Parish was returned to sender, leading to the current felony charge. Rosenberg, noting that Parish has received other mail at this address, says the letter was returned by mistake.

At an Oct. 24 hearing, Rosenberg pressed a Registry official to define 'residence.' Was it where individuals kept their things, or where they slept? Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard, filling in for an assistant, argued that Parish habitually violated the reporting rules. (He adds, in an interview, that Parish 'was apparently making no effort to let them know where he was.')

Judge Moria Krueger found 'probable cause to believe a felony was committed' and ordered Parish to stand trial. 'I hate to ask,' she said at the end of this proceeding. 'Do we have a correct address for the defendant?'

Catherine Dorl, head of the regional Public Defender's Office that includes Dane County, says homeless persons sometimes run afoul of the reporting rules because 'they don't know what to do.' She's handling another case in which a man became homeless, missed a letter from the Registry and is now facing a felony charge. And she's heard of individuals being charged for failing to report an address change after being hospitalized for mental illness.

John Dipko, spokesman for the state Department of Corrections, calls homelessness 'a terrible social problem' that makes Registry compliance more difficult. But he notes that the state has a toll-free number registrants can use to stay current on their reporting requirements, even if they are staying at a shelter or with a friend: 'We work with homeless/transient registrants to make it possible for them to comply.'

According to Dipko, Parish has shown in the past that he's capable of complying but then fell into noncompliance. He calls it 'a public safety concern when a twice-convicted child molester evades the Registry requirements for several months.'

The case has been set for trial in early February. If the state prevails, Parish could end up with a permanent residence ' for the next several years.

Case closed

Asked if the settlement was satisfactory, Connie Shaw answers in a word: 'No.'

A few weeks back, the 46-year-old Madison resident agreed to accept $39,000 (she got just over $21,000 after attorney's fees and costs) and a tepid letter expressing 'regret' to settle her lawsuit, filed in 1998, against three Dane County sheriff's deputies. Shaw accused the deputies of brutality over an incident early that year.

Shaw was purportedly beaten up by three women whom she tried to detain after they smashed into her car. She was arrested and taken to jail, where the deputies forcibly removed her clothes. She says they also smashed her head into a cement wall; the deputies denied this.

When the case went to trial in 2003, the jury ruled against Shaw. But the Wisconsin Supreme Court later ordered a new trial, saying the burden of proof presented in a jury instruction was too high. Instead of 'clear and convincing evidence,' the court unanimously ruled, the standard should have been 'a preponderance of evidence.'

Steven Porter, Shaw's attorney, says the case greatly expanded the ability of aggrieved parties to bring actions of this sort. But the jury in 2003 capped the damages Shaw could recover at $5,000. Thus, Porter considers the outcome a victory. Shaw does not, saying she settled out of resignation: 'Even if I had won at trial, nothing would have happened to these officers.'

As part of the deal, the three deputies signed a letter saying they 'regret the circumstances that resulted in the use of force' as well as expressing regret for 'any injury or harm' to Shaw. Initially, they added a line stating their hope 'that all those involved can put this unfortunate incident behind us.' Shaw insisted that this be removed.

Going down, looking up

The latest numbers are in, and the news is not good: Daily newspaper circulation across the nation is down once again for the six-month period ending Sept. 30. Average daily circulation tumbled 2.8%, with a 3.4% drop on Sunday, according to an article last week in Editor & Publisher. And national analysts say even these numbers are inflated, via promotions that offer deep discounts.

In Madison, The Capital Times' average daily (Monday-Friday) circulation slid 3.6%, to 17,581; the State Journal fell 2.9% daily, to 87,547, and 1.2% on Sunday, to 144,679.

'Obviously, there's a slight dip,' says State Journal publisher Bill Johnston, confessing his disappointment. But he says the numbers for Madison.com 'continue to go through the roof,' meaning the paper's 'reach frequency is still very solid.'

Paul Fanlund, the executive editor at The Capital Times, notes that a 'strategic decision' to kill an early edition led to a loss of single-copy sales. However, he says, 'Our home delivery is holding firm, and we think that overall we're doing as well or better than the norm for daily circulation.' And, of course, 'We continue to see our online traffic increase,' meaning the paper's journalism is 'seen by more eyes.'

Speaking of being seen by more eyes, the only major U.S. papers to post gains of 1% or more were two of the trashiest: The New York Post and New York Daily News. Go figure.

Shutting off The Mic?

The new Arbitron ratings, released Oct. 26, were better than expected. Madison's progressive talk radio outlet, 92.1 The Mic, scored a 3.7 share, up from 2.2 last winter and 3.1 this spring. But the local Air America affiliate is still fifth among the six local Clear Channel outlets, and there's talk that the owners are about to pull the plug.

'My understanding is that they plan to switch to [a sports format],' says a knowledgeable source. Ironically, the only Clear Channel station that scored lower than The Mic, with a 2.5 share, was sports talk WTSO-AM.

On Oct. 28, Clear Channel management abruptly canceled 'Forward Forum,' a locally produced talk show that ran Saturdays on The Mic. 'They lost something pretty special in terms of quality local programming,' says co-host John Quinlan. 'That's part of the station's obligation to the community.'

And a source says The Mic's morning show featuring Lee Rayburn and Jodie Shawbuck will be canceled as of the end of this week, possibly followed by a phase-out of Air America programming by the end of the year. Quoth the Rayburn: 'No comment.'

Air America last month filed for bankruptcy in federal court, reporting losses of $19.6 million in 2005 and $13.1 million so far this year. And Clear Channel has put itself up for sale, prompting nationwide belt-tightening.

Brian Turany, 92.1 program director, and Jeff Tyler, vice president of Clear Channel Radio-Madison, did not return phone messages.

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