APPLETON — A former Appleton guardian accused of stealing from his elderly and disabled clients has asked a judge to step down from the felony case.
Jeffrey M. Schend, 45, appeared Monday in Outagamie County Court to request that a judge from a different county be assigned to the case, based in part on Judge Gregory Gill’s role as supervisor for the county probate office. The register in probate is responsible for the oversight of guardians serving county clients.
Gill didn’t make a decision on Monday. Dist. Atty. Carrie Schneider is expected to provide Gill with written arguments later this week.
Gill also set a July 24 deadline for prosecutors to file any additional charges against Schend. Schneider said that would entail a “significant amendment” to charging documents if she expands the case.
Schend is charged with six felony theft counts and one misdemeanor count of theft. He’s accused of stealing about $500,000 from his clients.
Guardians are appointed by courts when its determined a person can no longer manage his or her finances. The investigation into Schend began after county officials received complaints that bills weren’t being paid.
Michael Petersen, attorney for Schend, said it would be inappropriate for Gill to preside over the case because of his relationship with Register in Probate Sue Lutz, who is expected to be a key witness at trial.
He also argued it would be inappropriate for any of the other Outagamie County judges to handle the case because they handled the competency cases in which Schend was appointed guardian.
Gill was appointed as judge last year and wasn’t responsible for any guardianship cases that involved Schend. He acknowledged his supervisory role in probate matters and recent work with Lutz, though said, “I don’t know if any of those discussions involved Mr. Schend, at least to my recollection.”
Gill questioned Petersen on the necessity for a different judge, noting a jury would be responsible for deciding the case if it goes to trial. He said relationships with those involved in cases are commonplace in counties as small as Outagamie.
Schend had been scheduled to go to trial in August, but the case was pulled from the calendar Monday due to the inavailability of a key police witness.
Several issues await resolution. Schend recently asked that the case be dismissed based on unreasonable delays in its prosecution. He’s also asking for an out-of-county jury to hear the case based on the publicity.
Attorneys agreed to postpone argument on those issues until Gill determines whether he will continue to preside over the case.
Schend will return to court July 31.
Former Appleton guardian Jeffrey Schend seeks new judge in theft case
July 9, 2012