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Claims board reschedules hearing in wrongful death case

Annette Bruner stands on the balcony of her Madison residence Oct. 5. Her son, Forest Shomberg, spent six years in prison before DNA evidence cleared his name. Shomberg died in August. (File photo by Kevin Harnack)

Annette Bruner stands on the balcony of her Madison residence recently. Bruner said Friday that she is not certain why a meeting with the state’s Claims Board was postponed. (File photo by Kevin Harnack)

The mother of a Madison man who died while trying to obtain compensation for a false conviction will get her day before a state board later this month.

The Wisconsin State Claims Board, which can provide $5,000 for every year a person spent behind bars on a wrongful conviction, will consider on April 30 awarding $102,500 to the estate of Forest Shomberg, according to an agenda released Friday. The hearing was originally scheduled to take place in December.

Shomberg’s mother, Annette Bruner, of Madison, said Friday that she is not certain why the meeting date was postponed.

“I think they just want to blow it off and give nothing for what happened,” she said. “Yes, that kid had problems, but he spent 6-½ years falsely incarcerated.”

Shomberg was imprisoned from 2003 to 2009 on a conviction for attempted sexual assault; DNA evidence later ruled him out as the culprit.

Shomberg went before the Claims Board in 2012 only to be told that he had not met a standard prohibiting him from being compensated unless he furnished “clear and convincing evidence” of his innocence. Shomberg appealed the decision and Eau Claire County Circuit Judge Michael Schumacher eventually ordered the Claims Board to award him an equitable amount.

Before Shomberg could appear before the board again, though, he died, apparently from a suicide.

Nathan Otis, a lawyer at Madison-based Nicholson and Gansner SC who represented Shomberg’s estate, has said he will attempt to win the exact same compensation that Shomberg would be pursuing were he still alive. Otis could not be immediately reached Friday afternoon.

The Shomberg estate’s $102,500 claim amount includes the maximum $25,000 that the state will award someone for a wrongful incarceration, plus a $77,500 reimbursement for legal fees.

The Shomberg estate’s scheduled appearance before the board comes a few months after it awarded another wrongly convicted man compensation in accordance with a judge’s order. The board announced on Nov. 25 that David Turnpaugh of Milwaukee would receive $36,847.89 for the three days he spent in jail and 57 days on house arrest as a result of a wrongful conviction on prostitution charges.

Like Shomberg, Turnpaugh at first was unsuccessful in his attempts to obtain money from the Claims Board. It only was after the failure of his second attempt that a Milwaukee County judge issued an order calling for him to receive compensation.

On the same day the ruling in the Turnpaugh case was released, a bill was introduced that would prevent judges from being able to overturn the Claims Board’s decisions. Among other changes, Assembly Bill 534 would have increased the maximum amount of compensation a person can receive for a wrongful incarceration, taking it to $15,000 a year up to a maximum of $200,000.

A rival bill introduced in the same legislative session, Assembly Bill 519, would have increased the compensation amount to $50,000 a year and removed the cap on total awards. It also would have taken away the Claims Board’s responsibilities regarding compensation to the wrongfully incarcerated and instead left those decisions to administrative law judges.

Neither bill was approved before April 3, the last day the Legislature had scheduled for conducting regular business this year.


About Dan Shaw, dshaw@wislawjournal.com

Dan Shaw is the managing editor at the Wisconsin Law Journal. He can be reached at dshaw@wislawjournal.com or at 414-225-1807.

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