The transcript of a juvenile court hearing that Dane County Judge Archie E. Simonson said would vindicate him of charges of sexism was made public today, but initial local reaction indicated the words may get him into more hot water than ever.
Simonson is facing a recall election on Sept. 7, largely because of reports of remarks he made during the May 25 hearing for a 15-year-old youth charged along with two other teenagers with raping a 16-year-old girl in a local high school. The reports suggested that he viewed the incident as a "normal reaction" to what he described as Madison's permissive sexual atmosphere.
He said then, and repeated this morning just before the transcrip was released that his remarks had been taken out of context and distorted. He said he wanted the transcript released and asked a judge from a neighboring county to rule on whether that would be proper. Juvenile hearings are normally closed to the public under Wisconsin law.
After several weeks of legal maneuvering and appeals, the transcript was made public. It provided a context for Simonson's remarks about normal reactions, but is also contains a number of other comments which seem likely to provoke a new outcry against the 52-year-old jurist.
The hearing began, according to the transcript, with assistant district attorney Meryl Manhardt telling Simonson that he should consider the interest of the public as well as that of the youth in deciding on how to deal with the boy. She said the community viewed the juvenile courts as generally lenient, cited a high degree of community interest in this case, and said the youth needed "guidance and training" in personal interaction.
Simonson then launched into the monologue that touched off the recall effort when it became public.
He said he did not know the details of the case and said it would make a difference if the girl had been "provocative encouraging, a party to the act who later regretted it," or if she was a complete stranger who was "gang-raped."
Then he asked, "how responsive (to the community) should I be?"
"This community is well known to be sexually permissive," he said, citing newspaper ads, sex clubs, escort services and prostitutes in the city.
"Go down State Street and the university area," he said. "I used to see girls clothed like that and I had to pay a lot of money to go into the South Side of Chicago to see what I view down on State Street today.
"Even in open court we have people appearing - women appearing without bras and with the nippes fully exposed and they think it is smart and they sit here on the witness stand with their dresses up over the ckeeks of their butts and we have this type of thing in the schools. So is that the attitude of the community? Am I supposed to be responsive to that?"
He listed some more commercial sex enterprises in Madison and asked, "It is really wide open and are we supposed to take an impressionable person 15 or 16 years of age who can respond to something like that and punish that person severely because they react to it normally?"
Manhardt, the assistant district attorney, replied, "I find your remarks about women's clothing particularly sexist."
Simonson shot back, "You bet it is. I can't go around walking exposing my genitals like they can the mammary glands."
Manhardt told the judge he was "reflecting the general theory that a woman provokes an assault and I can not accept that idea."
Simonson responded, "It sure raised a lot of interest in my mind from time to time."
Simonson went on to hear discussions about an appropriate sentence for the youth. He ultimately sentenced the youth to a year at home under court supervision rather than in a group home or residential school as the prosecutor had asked.
The judge himself was unavailable for comment today after the transcript was released. His office said he will be gone until Monday.
James Campbell, his campaign spokesman, said the transcript showed that Simonson was asking questions about factors that could have influenced the case rather than stating his own personal views. Campbell pointed to a portion later in the transcript where he said the judge was giving his own opinion rather than posing questions.
In that portion, Simonson says he was interested in rehabilitating the youth so he would "conduct himself in a fashion that is socially acceptable to the community and I have already inkled (sic) that in this community, it is difficult for many of us to understand what conduct is acceptable. We have a very broad gray line that we are maneuvering in at the present time, but the commission of sexual assult or the commission of any crime is obviously not one, is an act that is not going to be condoned by the community."
Campbell said that if the voters read that portion of the transcript as well as the more sensational parts, "they will come to the conclusion that there is no basis for a recall election."
Five candidates are opposing Simonson in the Sept. 7 winner-take-all election. They have been arguing that what Simonson said during the hearing, even though it sparked the recall, is less important than his overall past performance as a judge.