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Friday, July 25, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 70.0° F  Overcast
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WATCHDOG

Morlino breaks his promise
Diocese withholds videotape because bishop felt disrespected

Bishop Robert Morlino gave a false assurance.
Bishop Robert Morlino gave a false assurance.
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Like many other people, Judy Leurquin of Madison is concerned about the Georgia-based Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the School of the Americas.

'It's a very important and emotional topic for us,' says Leurquin, assistant producer of the local weekly TV program 'Third World Issues,' which airs on WYOU.

The school, run by the U.S. Army, trains soldiers from Latin America; many of its graduates have been implicated in human rights abuses, including the murder of nuns and priests. That adds irony to Madison Bishop Robert Morlino's role as chairman of its Board of Visitors, a position that helps give the school legitimacy.

And so Leurquin was among the 70-80 people who turned out at the Catholic Multicultural Center on Feb. 22 to hear Morlino tell how WHINSEC is 'trying to improve its good name.' She and producer Rus Attoe arrived with a video camera, to record the event for their cable show. But then Father Jim Murphy of Portage introduced her to Morlino, who assured her that this was not necessary.

'My people will do it,' she remembers Morlino saying, pointing to a diocese camera set to film the event. She asked if she could get a copy. 'Certainly,' Morlino said.

Fr. Murphy, a critic of Morlino's involvement with WHINSEC, confirms that the bishop made this offer to Leurquin, without conditions.

Leurquin gladly accepted, since this allowed her to focus more on the bishop's remarks. Besides, 'I expected a man of his stature to follow through on his promise.'

Big mistake.

After the event, Leurquin asked about getting a copy. For a while, she was calling 'every couple of days.' About a month ago, she reached diocese spokesman Brent King on his cell phone, and was told the diocese needed a few more days, for editing.

In mid-March, after further prodding, Leurquin got a call from King, who said the tape would soon be ready. Then, on March 28, she got another call, from diocese spokesman Brian Kelly, who left a message on her answering machine: 'We're hearing from the office of the bishop that Bishop Morlino said he agreed to participate in the WHINSEC forum on the assumption that he would be treated respectfully. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, so the video won't be shared.' (Neither Kelly nor King returned phone messages.)

Leurquin is surprised and disappointed by this turn of events. When Morlino promised her the tape, 'he didn't say anything about respect or disrespect.' If he had, she would have filmed the event herself ('I could kick myself for not doing that'). Leurquin adds that while much of the audience clearly disagreed with Morlino's defense of the school, she didn't perceive that he was treated with disrespect.

She senses that Morlino ' who last year warned priests not to dissent from his hard-right positions against stem-cell research and same-sex marriage ' is a 'very authoritarian person' who regards any disagreement as disrespect. But, she hastens to add, 'I don't want to bash the bishop. I'm with the people who hope he somehow changes his mind and gets off that committee.'

Fat chance. Morlino has consistently served as a kind of PR flack for the school. At the Feb. 22 forum, he praised recent graduates for doing 'a tremendous job' cracking down on gangs and drug dealers, no doubt with an abundance of Christian kindness. 'We really don't think WHINSEC, as it is now, is doing anything wrong.'

Of course, it may not be wise to take him at his word.

Blind justice

Annette Ziegler, newly elected to the state Supreme Court, has vowed to put her investments in a blind trust, to attain what her campaign manager calls 'an extra layer of insurance of impartiality.'

The Capital Times, for one, is not impressed: '[W]hy would anyone believe that...she will suddenly forget the names of the corporations in which she holds significant financial interests?'

Ziegler reportedly owns stock in 174 companies, including several dozen in amounts higher than $50,000. As a circuit court judge, she presided over cases involving some of these companies without making the requisite disclosures. A Judicial Commission complaint is pending.

Is it possible a trust would shield Ziegler's investments from the public, although not from her memory?

Roth Judd, executive director of the state Ethics Board, says that's one way a trust could be set up. For this reason, 'I'm not a big fan of blind trusts. Who's blinded?'

Judd recently fired off a letter advising Ziegler to 'conform to the federal rules and model' on a government Web site. These rules, he explains, require that existing investments still be publicly disclosed. But when new stocks are acquired, the portfolio manager may withhold these from public statements of economic interest ' so long as the individual is also not told.

Of course, a justice who showed favoritism toward all corporations would pretty well be covered. Another loophole in the ethical terrain.

PFC rules could change

Perennial legislation to modify the disciplinary process for police officers and firefighters could fare better this year, due to Democratic gains in the state Legislature. Scott Herrick, longtime attorney for the Madison Police and Fire Commission, says the Dems 'regard it as a labor bill.'

The Legislature's version, which Herrick testified against last month, would allow individuals who don't like the result of a PFC proceeding to take their cases to arbitration, starting the process from scratch.

It would be, says Herrick, 'a do-over, a mulligan.' And they could still appeal either result in circuit court. That's three kicks at the cat before an officer could be disciplined ' as though this were not already hard enough.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jim Doyle intends to include language in his budget bill giving officers the option of picking arbitration instead of PFC review. If this language isn't drafted carefully, warns Herrick, it could 'jeopardize or do away with' complaints initiated by citizens.

But Doyle's initial bill contained the wrong proposal. Herrick fears the Legislature could vote on the intended change 'without knowing what the language says.' Riffing off the old adage about the making of laws, he calls this 'really the bloodiest part of the sausage.'

Does anybody know what time it is?

Life as we've always known it came to a screeching halt March 13 when AT&T disconnected its automated lines (255-1234 and 936-1212) for time and basic weather information. AT&T spokesman Chris Bauer says this was done because the service 'no longer aligns with the company's long-term strategy.'

According to Bauer, call volume had declined as people increasingly use other sources ' radio, TV, the Internet, even cell phones. And killing the service saved money. 'It's unfortunate that we've had to do it,' he says.

Linda, a disabled woman who lives in Madison, is saddened to see the service end. She suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, and would call every morning to check the humidity. And she'd sometimes call time because it's hard to get around to see the clock.

Beyond that, Linda feels that something fundamental has been lost. 'There are only so many things that are constant and consistent and always there,' she says. 'Correct time is one of them.'

One of AT&T's competitors, TDS Telecom, continues to provide time and temperature data at 831-4141; weather info is available from the National Weather Service at 249-6645.

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