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Justices deadlocked in billionaire assault case (UPDATE)

A teenager who accused a billionaire heir to the SC Johnson fortune of sexually abusing her for years can’t testify at his trial unless she agrees to release her medical records, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, reversing a decision it issued last year.

The high court issued a muddled ruling last summer saying the girl could testify against 58-year-old Samuel Curtis Johnson, the son of the late SC Johnson chairman Sam Johnson. On Wednesday the court issued an order clarifying that the ruling amounted to a deadlock.

That means a lower court decision barring the girl from testifying until she releases her medical records stands. The girl has refused to release the records, and her attorney, Kathleen Quinn, told the trial judge during a status hearing in Racine on Wednesday that her client’s position hadn’t changed. Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz set a July 14 trial date and stated that the girl won’t be able to testify until she gives up the records.

It wasn’t immediately clear how Wednesday’s ruling would affect the case. Much depends on how crucial the girl’s testimony was for prosecutors and what other evidence investigators may have gathered.

Quinn declined to discuss the case when reached by phone later Wednesday, other than to say again that her client’s medical records are confidential. Neither the Racine County district attorney’s office nor Johnson’s attorney, Mark Richards, immediately responded to phone messages seeking comment.

Prosecutors charged Johnson in 2011 with multiple sexual assault counts. The girl, now 18, told investigators Johnson had inappropriate sexual contact with her 15 to 20 times beginning in the summer after she finished sixth grade, when she was 12 years old.

According to the criminal complaint, the girl’s mother said Johnson denied the allegations when she confronted him. She later asked him again about the girl’s allegations and he responded by asking her if she was recording him. She told him she wasn’t and he acknowledged fondling the girl, the complaint states. He also has told her he was sorry for hurting the girl.

Johnson’s attorneys want to see the girl’s medical records to determine whether she ever reported the assaults during therapy. The 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled in 2012 that she can’t testify in the case until she releases the records.

Prosecutors asked the state Supreme Court to review the decision. Two justices, David Prosser and Michael Gableman, recused themselves. The remaining five justices, using varying rationales, concluded she could testify without releasing the records.

Both the state and the defense asked the court to clarify its decision. On Wednesday the court released an order saying the July decision actually amounted to a deadlock. No three justices reached an agreement on whether the girl has to release the records before she can take the stand, the court said. That means the 2nd District appellate ruling stands and the girl can’t testify unless she releases her records.

Racine-based SC Johnson makes household products including Pledge, Glade, Drano, Windex and Ziploc. Johnson worked for the company as a general manager and in other roles in the 1980s and early 1990s but hasn’t had a formal relationship with it for years.

He served as the chairman of Sturtevant-based Diversey Inc., a cleaning products company that spun off from SC Johnson in the late 1990s. He resigned from Diversey’s board in February 2011, shortly before he was charged. Sealed Air Corporation acquired Diversey in June of that year.

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