I live in Waukesha County for a reason. It’s generally a safe community, and I always had the impression that Waukesha County is a place that protects people. Unfortunately, that belief was shaken on Thursday as I watched a Waukesha County judge, Bill Domina, a Jim Doyle appointee, give a slap on the wrist to William Bednarz, a violent felon with a battery and DV history who had attacked a woman.
The courageous victim, who is a friend of mine, asked for prison, describing to the judge how William Bednarz’s eyes “turned black” and how he became “unhinged in a matter of seconds” and violent, sending her to the hospital. He was charged with felony stalking, felony substantial battery – intend bodily harm, three disorderly conduct misdemeanors and misdemeanor battery. The DA pleaded it down, tossing the stalking and two DC offenses but having them read-in at sentencing.
This wasn’t a terrible deal for the victim or state; it was better than forcing her to testify in a trial. But then he got another deal. Domina went under the prosecutor’s recommendation of 12 months in jail. He gave Bednarz only six months in jail with another three months in work-release jail. He did not explain why he didn’t think Bednarz deserved the time requested by the prosecution. Instead, he blasted him to smithereens, calling him a “marauding bully.” Very incongruent.
Bednarz could have received 3.5 years in prison and more time in jail.
Didn’t Waukesha County learn from the Michael Y. Liu case? A different judge gave Liu four months of work release jail for a similar domestic violence case, and he went to Illinois and stabbed his wife’s parents. However, Liu had no prior record at all, making that sentence at least reasonable. In contrast, Bednarz’s behavior is a PATTERN dating back to 1992 (although weirdly it’s technically not classified as domestic abuse because those statutes don’t apply to boyfriend/girlfriend dynamics if the people don’t live together.)
The judge’s comments did not match his words. At first, I thought Domina was going to give Bednarz a rocket ride (or at least go with the prosecutor’s recommendation) because he said things like this:
“I am so troubled by the facts set forth.”
“You’re 60 years old. You’ve been to prison…You’re a marauding bully.”
“I don’t know what to do with you.”
“I have to wonder what will become of the community that has you in it.”
“You punched a woman in the face. You are not the victim here.”
“What experience in your life put you in such an arrogant and haughty place?”
“You have explosive volatility that erupts.”
The judge said that he hoped Bednarz would have a productive life in the future, but he commented that he would not bet on it “with your track record.” Then he went under the prosecutor’s recommendation.
The prosecutor, Molly Schmidt, said Bednarz was motivated by “power and control” over the victim and recounted his criminal history: It dates to 1992 and includes cases of battery, resisting, disorderly conduct, bail jumping, battery again, criminal damage to property, violating a domestic violence order, drug dealing, third-offense drunk driving, drug possession, and battery again. The most recent case was a 2020 third-offense drunk driving arrest.
The judge described how, in another incident, Bednarz, who ran a concrete business, punched a customer. Other women wrote letters describing allegations against Bednarz.
The court documents in the 1992 battery say police responded to a domestic abuse call and found a different woman with her lower lip cut and swollen. “She complained that her boyfriend, William R. Bednarz, struck her. Bednarz was subsequently arrested.”
That woman told police “Bednarz had struck her and pulled her hair. Additionally, she made a tape-recorded statement in which she described previous physical assaults, with the last prior assault occurring six months before. She feared he would injure her again because ‘that’s just the way he is. He’s violent. He’s hit me before.'”
According to the appellate court case, though, this victim later tried to recant after Bednarz apologized and they got back together; she accused police of altering her statement, but prosecutors took the case forward anyway, citing battered women syndrome. The appeals court sided with prosecutors; the case was even cited in a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
In the recent case, defense attorney, Matt Huppertz, did not dispute the facts given by the victim in court, which are eerily similar. He claimed that Bednarz had taken responsibility. Bednarz said his heart was broken and admitted that he had acted in the “most hostile way.” He said he is an alcoholic.
Domina then decided to go under the prosecutor’s recommendation.
The victim was deeply shocked by the sentence, telling me she was disappointed and scared that Bednarz would now be able to move back home a couple blocks from her after a few short months. She is most concerned he could hurt someone else.
Unlike the victim, the assistant DA and the DA’s very rude victim witness specialist (Kari Blankenheim) didn’t seem to have a problem with the sentence. The prosecutor told the victim she thought it wasn’t a bad sentence. The victim witness specialist exuded hostility and told the victim that Bednarz would serve a stayed prison term that Domina also gave him if he screws up.
I explained to the victim that this is not always true. There are many cases in Wisconsin where the Department of Corrections does not revoke people who commit new crimes. My comment seemed to upset the victim witness specialist. The victim told me she did not feel supported by that office.
Revocations for people on probation, parole, and extended supervision, including those who commit new crimes, have plummeted in Wisconsin, despite rising crime. They’re down 50% since 2018. Those working inside the system tell us it’s due to policy changes implemented by Gov. Tony Evers’ appointee as Corrections Secretary, Kevin Carr.
You don’t want to have to bet on an offender getting revoked, not in Evers’ Wisconsin.
The reactions of the ADA and the victim witness specialist make me think this kind of sentence for physically abusing a person is considered pretty normal in Waukesha County. Maybe the judge actually thought he was being tough; that would explain the incongruent nature between his words and sentence. I’d be willing to bet my house that judges in Waukesha County see this kind of case pretty much every day. I’d bet they’re numbed out to the seriousness and how traumatic it is for the victim because they often see even worse.
I asked an attorney who works there a lot. To him, Domina’s sentence seemed kind of tough comparatively.
However, it shocked the victim.
Maybe the Waukesha County court system needs to take a long, hard look at how it treats people who are abuse victims. Maybe the folks in the system need to take a step back and realize that, to people who are NOT in court every day, this kind of sentence feels like a bit of a slap in the face.
Perhaps the sentence would have been appropriate if this was a one-off thing, but not for a 60-year-old man whose criminal history dates back to 1993, and who has been given many chances to stop endangering other people through his alcohol abuse and explosive rages. He’s already been to prison. Already been to jail. Already been on probation. Already been to AODA. Been there, done that. AND HE KEEPS DOING IT.
The court system can be very cold, lengthy, and traumatic.
If I were the judge, I would have given him a year or two in prison; minimally, I would not have given Bednarz a sentence less than the prosecution was seeking.
Even though he was appointed initially by Democrat Jim Doyle, I had hopes that Domina would be fair. I primarily remember him from the infamous Waukesha “cocaine mom” case in which he sought to protect a pregnant drug addict’s unborn child. I’ve met Domina before, and he is a nice guy.
I am writing this column in the hopes that the next judge in Waukesha County gives the next violent abuser more significant time. And that the victim witness office gets its act together; it’s not the first problem there.
My friend – I’ll call her what the criminal complaint does, “Victim A” – had dated Bednarz, who was sort of her neighbor in a Lake country community. She had recently undergone a divorce. A mother of five who was married for almost 30 years, she was slowly building a new life. She is charismatic, vivacious, and kind.
Now I was sitting there watching as her legs shook slightly from trauma as she courageously told Domina what Bednarz had done. The defense did not contest her account.
It started when he pushed her into Lac LaBelle fully clothed with her purse and cell phone late at night for no reason. It escalated into him allegedly biting her face in another incident and allegedly breaking into her house to hack into her computer. He allegedly punched her window screen. He would show up, standing outside her back patio door.
The control and abuse escalated into a very dangerous culminating incident in which, again for no reason, Bednarz punched Victim A in the face (leaving photographed injuries). Her head struck a glass table, shattering it, and she fled her own home, covered in blood, and called the police. The hospital had to stitch together the gash in her head. As even Domina pointed out during the sentencing, he has another case where a person died from hitting their head.
She was too scared to go home. This once vivacious woman was rattled to the core. Her words. She was diagnosed with breast cancer two months later. She had always been a healthy person.
The mistake Victim A made was never backgrounding the guy; she had never had contact with the criminal justice system before and was clearly too trusting.
Sure, he has a 1.5 year (confinement time) prison sentence he could serve if he messes up; the judge stayed it. Yeah, he’s going to be supervised on probation and has a series of conditions, such as not contacting the victim.
The judge avoided one mistake from the Liu case and ordered Bednarz taken into custody immediately.
However, the bottom line is that a sentence like this makes a victim wonder why going to court was worth it. You agitate the abuser more by pressing charges, you go through a year of hellishly stressful court appearances, and then he doesn’t even get the DA’s recommendation, much less the max.
With a deficient victim witness office, a weak judge, and an ADA who acted just fine with it all, you have to question whether the idea that Waukesha County is tougher on criminals is somewhat of a myth.