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Decision coming Wednesday in former Kenosha DA’s disciplinary case

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is scheduled to hand down a decision Wednesday in a lawyer-discipline case accusing a former Kenosha County district attorney of failing to disclose a police officer’s planting of evidence in a murder investigation.

Robert Zapf, who served as the Kenosha County DA first from 1981 to 1989 and then again from 2005 to 2017, is alleged to have learned in January 2015 that a Kenosha police officer had planted evidence while executing a search warrant nearly three years earlier. Zapf did not disclose his knowledge until after one of the defendants in the case had pleaded guilty and a second one was being tried.

Toward the end of the second defendant’s trial, Zapf acknowledged he was aware that evidence had been mishandled and that the officer who was responsible for the mishandling had resigned his post in early 2015. The officer later admitted on the stand that he had planted evidence. The jury nonetheless found the defendant guilty.

A referee enlisted by the Office of Lawyer Regulation found that Zapf had neglected his duty to turn over material exculpatory evidence and had made a false statement of fact to the court. At the same time, though, the referee concluded that Zapf had not falsified evidence or helped a witness give false testimony.

As punishment, the referee recommended Zapf’s law license be suspended for a year, that Zapf be barred from ever working as prosecutor again and that he take 25 hours of continuing legal education on prosecutors’ ethical duties.

In an appeal of those recommendations, Zapf is arguing that the planted evidence in question was irrelevant to any issue in the murder case. He also contends that he sent defense attorneys a police officers’ report about mishandled evidence in the case, among other things.

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