Judge disputes damage claim; Parking lot dent prompts questioning from sheriff's office
[Brookfield, WI]

Jacqueline Seibel of the Journal Sentinel staff
February 5, 2001 Monday Metro Edition
Copyright 2001 Journal Sentinel Inc.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
February 5, 2001 Monday Metro Edition

(BROOKFIELD, Wis.) --Investigators have questioned Brookfield's municipal judge about allegedly striking an unattended car in a parking lot, but the judge contends he's not involved and that he is going to prove it.

"It's absolutely absurd. It didn't happen," said Richard J. Steinberg, municipal judge for Brookfield who has been on the bench for 27 years hearing civil ordinance cases.

"I did not strike anybody's car," he said. "It would be absolutely ridiculous of me to strike a car of a neighbor."

After noticing his car was damaged Tuesday night, Charlie Scheele said, he reported Wednesday to Brookfield police that his car had been struck in a parking lot.

To avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest, Brookfield police turned the investigation over to the Waukesha County Sheriff's Department after learning the damage could have occurred in a parking lot where both Scheele and Steinberg work and that the men park their cars next to each other in assigned spaces.

Sheriff's Detective Steve Pederson confirmed Friday that the department is investigating an accident that could involve Steinberg but said he "would not comment on ongoing investigations."

Brookfield Sgt. Joe Mozian said police received a call just before 10 a.m. Wednesday from a man who wanted to report an unattended vehicle struck in the parking lot of the Fraternal Order of Eagles building at 12660 W. Capitol Drive.

Steinberg has a law office in the building and is the secretary to the judicial branch for the Eagles.

Scheele is the accountant for the Eagles.

He described their relationship as " professional" and said they sat next to each other at the Eagles Christmas party.

Four years ago, Steinberg asked Scheele to switch parking stalls, contending that his position as judge and attorney required him to carry around a lot of files. Steinberg said he needed the slot closer to the handicap space so he could have more room, Scheele said.

Scheele, who agreed to the change, said he has never accused Steinberg of striking his 1989 Honda Prelude. However, a forensics test should be completed by the end of the week, he said.

The damage was done to the driver's side between the door and back tire, Scheele said.

Steinberg said a person who had been involved in a "hit- and-run" type of accident would not want to be found and he has been returning to his work place every day.

Steinberg said his car has some scratches on its bumper but those have been there for about a year.

Upset over being "falsely accused" -- and the protocol of getting the Sheriff's Department involved -- Steinberg has hired an attorney to investigate. The lawyer interviewed Scheele and found alleged inconsistencies in his statements, Steinberg said.

Scheele said he "respectfully disagrees."

Steinberg said he is upset with the Sheriff's Department because three deputies arrived to question him while he was holding court Thursday. The judge said he told the officers he had "judicial immunity" from being questioned because he wanted them to know that he didn't have to talk just then.

However, Steinberg said, he did eventually talk to the officers and showed them his car.

Steinberg also said he believes the department was overzealous in sending three officers to question him when he would have made himself available to them.

On seeing another perspective of the judicial process, Steinberg said, "It gives me a good understanding of how important details are -- that's why I did my own investigation."


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