The June 2007 edition of Wisconsin Lawyer magazine identifies the most significant court decisions in 2006. Michael Best is proud to have successfully represented, pro bono, the defendant in Huml V. Vlazny, 2006 WI 87, 293 Wis. 2d 169, 716 N W.2d 807.
The Michael Best Trial Team of John C. Thomure, Jr., Timothy M. Hansen, and Jonathan C. Wertz represented a client on appeal, pro bono, who pled guilty to criminal acts and was sentenced to probation and ordered to pay $140,000 in criminal restitution. Shortly after the sentencing, our client was sued civilly by the victim, and the parties settled for well over $1 million. Our client was then given a global release including all past, present and future claims whether known or unknown. Pursuant to statute, when our client was discharged from probation years later, the court converted the unpaid restitution (approximately $107,000) to a civil judgment in favor of the victim, so the victim could enforce it as a private debt.
Michael Best moved to have the trial court enforce the settlement agreement, barring enforcement of the new civil judgment. Using statutory construction principles, we argued that the applicable restitution and civil judgment statutes made the civil judgment subject to the release provision in the settlement agreement and therefore, not enforceable against our client because the victim had released all of claims and rights.
The trial court disagreed with our position and found the release unenforceable. Michael Best appealed to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. That Court of Appeals determined, after briefing and oral argument, that the case should be decided directly by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. After further briefing and oral argument, the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed with our statutory analysis and ruled the judgment was not enforceable because of the prior release, resulting in a complete victory for our client.