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Family of wrongly incarcerated man gets less than requested (UPDATE)

The estate of a deceased Madison man who was wrongly imprisoned will receive $97,500 from the Wisconsin Claims Board, according to a decision released Monday.

Forest Shomberg’s family received $20,000 for the six years he spent in prison, and $77,500 for legal fees he incurred while trying to clear his name.

Shomberg was imprisoned from 2003 to 2009 on a conviction for attempted sexual assault, but DNA evidence later ruled him out as the culprit. He was found dead in a car in August, purportedly of a suicide.

Shomberg’s family requested $102,500 from the Claims Board. According to the decision, the board members did not award the full amount, however, because of “[Shomberg’s] actions following release from the wrongful imprisonment prior to his death.” This presumably refers to a criminal conviction for felon in possession of a firearm, a federal case for which Shomberg went back to prison.

His estate’s attorney, Nathan Otis of Nicholson & Gansner SC in Madison, said Monday he was pleased with the Claims Board’s decision, even if he was a bit disappointed they took his subsequent conviction into account.

“I don’t think somebody who has brushes with the law after … is a relevant factor,” Otis said.

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. He appealed the decision and Eau Claire County Circuit Judge Michael Schumacher – who heard the case because Shomberg lived in a halfway house in that county – eventually ordered the board to award him an equitable amount.

Still, during their meeting last month, Claims Board members expressed reluctance about awarding any money, since Shomberg is not alive to collect the compensation. They worried an award may lead to other families coming forward to collect claims for deceased relatives who were exonerated after they died.

Otis argued that was not relevant, however, because Schumacher made his order while Shomberg was still alive. Otis said Monday the board’s order “doesn’t necessarily provide them with a direct recent precedent that they can rely on.”

The decision released Monday refers to Shomberg’s case as having “unique and unprecedented circumstances.”

The money is expected to go to Shomberg’s mother, Annette Bruner. She fronted her son the $77,500 to pay for an attorney, in anticipation that he would pay it back once he was released from prison and started working.

Bruner and her now-deceased husband also took out a line of credit on a piece of land they owned to pay for Shomberg’s attorneys. They recently lost that land because the loan was not paid back, according to the decision.

Attempts to reach Bruner were unsuccessful Monday.

The reference to Shomberg’s criminal conviction following his release directly ties in to legislation that was introduced yet failed during the last session. Among the ideas under review for next session are ones that would restrict a claimant’s ability to collect money if he or she commits a crime after he or she is acquitted of another, as well as situations where a claimant took his or her own life. Other states have similar laws.

WLJ staff writer Dan Shaw also contributed to this report.

About Eric Heisig

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