Former Wisconsin state Sen. Randy Hopper (R) was found not guilty by a jury Friday on a charge of drunk-driving, after mounting a court defense that his arrest in October was the product of a conspiracy by the public employee union members who had successfully worked to recall him from office earlier last summer.
The verdict was delivered Friday afternoon, according to the Fond du Lac Reporter.
Hopper and his attorney Dennis Melowski presented a case that public employee union members in Fond du Lac County, the place Hopper formerly represented and where he was arrested for the alleged DUI, have been out to get him for his support of Gov. Scott Walker’s legislation that eliminated most collective bargaining rights for public employees.
Melowski did admit at trial that Hopper drank as many as three and a half beers at a Green Bay Packers game on October 16, 2011, before driving home to Fond du Lac with his girlfriend, Valerie Cass. But they were able to persuade a jury for an acquittal, by casting doubt on the motives of both the arresting officer and the family that had phoned the police about Hopper’s driving.
Hopper explained that he refused to take a breathalyzer test at the county jail, because county employees had threatened him in the past. A preliminary test that jail staffers were able to take showed a blood alcohol content of 0.13%, above the 0.08% limit, but this was not admissible as evidence in the trial.
“The day everything broke loose in Madison, I had members of the union in my office who said, ‘If you don’t support us, we are going to destroy your life,’” Hopper testified at the trial. “We’re going to picket your kids’ schools, we’re going to tear apart your reputation, we’re going to have you recalled.”
Hopper and Melowski challenged the credibility of the arresting officer, Deputy Nick Venne, on the grounds that he had previously signed a recall petition against Hopper.
“I don’t have a lot of faith and trust in Officer Venne at this point because it seemed to me that he was out to get me,” Hopper testified, under questioning from special prosecutor Frank Endejan. “There are a lot of people who work in the county that have never met me personally that have sent me some of the most vile messages you have ever seen, sir.”
Also questioned by Melowski were Tim and Tammy Hicken — the husband and wife who along with their daughter first phoned the police about an erratic driver — about their having signed and circulated petitions to recall Gov. Scott Walker. Tim Hicken is a member of the union at the Fond du Lac County Highway Department. The petition drive was officially launched in mid-November after much build-up, a month after Hopper’s arrest, and ran through mid-January.
In response, the Hickens testified that they did not know who the driver was, when they first reported the erratic driving to the police, and followed him into the supermarket parking lot where he was arrested.
In addition to the backlash against Walker’s policies in 2011, Hopper simultaneously faced his own political headaches in the August election due to a messy divorce — and claims by his estranged wife that he “now lives mostly in Madison” after having an affair with a younger woman, Republican aide and lobbyist Valerie Cass.
That controversy might very well have made the difference in Hopper’s 51%-49% defeat by Democrat Jessica King.
Cass was herself in the car with Hopper, and reportedly became upset when he was arrested, and yelled at the family who had called the police.
During the ride in the squad car on the way to the county jail, Hopper tried to start a conversation with Venne, telling him among other things: “Don’t ever run for office, by the way.”