Switalla burglary trial delayed as negotiations continue

Special prosecutor appointed due to potential conflict of interest
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A jury trial in the felony burglary case against Wittenberg Village President and Shawano County Supervisor William J. Switalla has been delayed while negotiations continue on some alternative that could settle the case without a trial.

Michael Balskus, from the Winnebago County District Attorney’s Office, who was recently appointed special prosecutor in the case, told the court Thursday there have been discussions with Switalla’s defense counsel.

“I think we’re very close to a resolution in this matter,” Balskus said.

Balskus was appointed after the Shawano County District Attorney’s Office, which charged the case in September, determined that continuing to prosecute the case was considered to be a conflict of interest.

Thursday’s hearing had been expected to be a final pre-trial conference before the case went before a jury on Wednesday.

That trial, if it takes place, is now scheduled for Aug. 8, following another final pre-trial conference on July 26.

Switalla’s attorney, Paul Payant, told the court a resolution could be arrived at prior to that but setting the new trial date was a good idea “just in case.”

Judge William Kussel Jr., noting that Switalla is a county supervisor and at least one other county supervisor was included in the defense’s witness list for the trial, said he researched statutes to determine if he should recuse himself from the case.

He said he saw nothing that required him to recuse, but asked the attorneys whether they had any problem with him overseeing the case.

Both attorneys said they had no problem with Kussel continuing to hear the case.

Switalla is accused of breaking into a garage and taking a grill from a property the county had acquired in foreclosure.

Payant has previously argued that there had been no felony committed; that Switalla removed the grill from the property along with garbage he offered to clean up for the county at the property the county had acquired.

Payant also questioned whether County Treasurer Deb Wallace, who signed the non-consent form stating Switalla had no authority to take the grill, was in a position to claim ownership of the property.

It was Wallace who referred the matter to the county’s corporation counsel, who referred it to the sheriff’s department for investigation.

According to the criminal complaint, Switalla was among several county officials who went out to view the property at 715 Webb St. in Wittenberg on April 24 of last year to establish a sale price.

When the county treasurer’s office held an open house at the property for interested buyers on May 23, the staff noticed that the house and garage door were unlocked and items appeared to be missing from the garage.

Neighbors informed them that they had seen Switalla loading a grill from the garage into his van, according to the complaint.

Switalla later returned the grill to the property.

Neighbors also told authorities that numerous other people had been at the house since the previous owner had left.

The criminal complaint charges Switalla with one felony count of burglary, which carries a maximum possible penalty of 12½ years imprisonment and a $25,000 fine if found guilty.

He is also charged with a misdemeanor count of theft.

Switalla is free on a $2,000 signature bond.