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Reality Check: Third-party ad against Kloppenburg questioned

Reality Check: Third-party ad against Kloppenburg questioned

MADISON, Wis. - A new ad in the race for state Supreme Court takes aim at a court case handled by Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg.

The ad uses a Dane County sexual assault case to make viewers think she released a criminal. News 3 finds that's not what happened.

"We've heard it before, liberal judges letting criminals off on technicalities, judges like JoAnne Kloppenburg," the ad says, while showing a graphic that says "conviction overturned."

News 3 finds this first claim in the ad is misleading.

The man involved in the case the ad discusses, Daniel Fierro, is still behind bars serving his 10-year sentence at Oshkosh Correctional Institution. His conviction was never overturned, as you see on the screen in the original version of the ad.

"This man had a long criminal history, including beating his wife in front of their 2-year-old daughter," the ad says. "Then, after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting a 15-year-old child, he got 15 years."

News 3 finds the claim here to be misleading. What you see on the screen is a dramatization of events that shows a woman being hit in the face. Court documents show Fierro twisted the arm of his ex-wife and pushed her into a chair.

In a separate case, Fierro pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual assault. Two months later, he appealed his conviction and that's when the case went before Kloppenburg.

"He appealed, saying he didn't understand the charge," the ad says. "And JoAnne Kloppenburg agreed to give him a new hearing."

News 3 finds this needs clarification.

After conviction, Fierro told a judge he didn't understand the charge he pleaded guilty to and a judge denied a hearing on the matter. Three judges on an appeals court panel, including Kloppenburg, unanimously found that Fierro presented evidence that he was given plea instructions with information on the wrong charge -- sexual contact with a child rather than sexual intercourse. State law provides those can have different consequences.

The appeals court ruled the trial court should hold a hearing on whether Fierro could reconsider his plea. The hearing was held and a judge once again denied a change of plea. Fiero remains in prison but has continued to appeal his plea.

The ad is being run and paid for by the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, a nonprofit that is not required to disclose its donors and can run issue ads on behalf of candidates. The group says it is focused on "economic opportunities" and is run by former GOP aides and operatives. They've reportedly spent more than $700,000 on the ad statewide.

A spokesman for the group said Wednesday the "conviction overturned" graphic would be removed in future airings of the ad, saying the group didn't want to "quibble" about the language. As for the rest of the ad, the spokesman said, "the facts are not in question."

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