A veteran Eau Claire defense attorney told a judge that, for the first time in his career, social media has become a bias issue for one of his clients.
Harry Hertel is the attorney for Jeffrey J. Anger, a retired Altoona police officer accused of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl in 2014.
Anger, 59, 527 Loring St., Altoona, has pleaded not guilty in Eau Claire County Court to two felony counts of first-degree sexual assault of a child younger than 13.
Hertel sent Dunn County Judge Rod Smeltzer, who has been assigned to preside over the case, a letter indicating his intent to file a motion for a change of venue in the case because of pretrial publicity. If the motion is granted, Anger’s trial will be moved to another county or a jury will be selected from another county and transported to Eau Claire County for a trial.
Hertel cited social media as a significant issue.
“What we discovered is that although the actual printed and broadcast material was of some significance, there were actually postings which were shared hundreds of times in the community, as well as commentary which we are in the process of attempting to receive which would demonstrate concern about bias in the community towards Mr. Anger,” Hertel said in the letter.
“Unlike prior venue changes which I have sought, this is the first time where I became aware of the significance about the sharing of internet postings either on Facebook or other sites, including the actual newspaper, TV and radio station sites, where there is not only commentary but subsequent sharing to third persons, and those numbers are obviously significant,” Hertel wrote.
Anger’s trial was scheduled for Feb. 20-22. Smeltzer rescheduled the trial to Aug. 7-9 because of health issues involving Hertel.
Smeltzer gave Hertel a deadline of Feb. 10 to file any motions. The judge will hear the motions at a March 9 hearing.
Smeltzer is the third judge assigned to Anger’s case.
Eau Claire County Judge Paul Lenz took himself off Anger’s case in July before Anger had a chance to enter a plea at his arraignment. Lenz was a former Altoona city attorney and had contact with Anger over the course of time as a judge as well.
Lenz was appointed to the case in June after Hertel requested a substitution of Eau Claire County Judge Jon Theisen from the case. Theisen granted that request.
According to the criminal complaint:
On Sept. 12, 2014, a Menomonie police detective was asked to conduct an investigation for the Altoona Police Department because the suspect is a retired Altoona officer.
An 11-year-old girl told the detective Anger had sexual contact with her on two separate occasions in September 2014 at an Altoona residence.
Anger retired in July 2009 after spending nearly 30 years with the Altoona department.
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