October 07, 2006

Ellison's October Surprise

The DFL/Strib plunge yet again into the dirt in today's October Surprise swat at 5th CD underdog Alan Fine over a "domestic abuse" arrest that has been expunged due to Fine's innocence.

The headline says "Fine Had Record Expunged".

Minneapolis congressional candidate Alan Fine was charged with domestic violence in 1995 and nine years later had his record expunged, in a case in which he and his first ex-wife give different versions of the events that led to him ending up in the Hennepin County jail.

His wife at the time, Rebecca Wexler, dropped the abuse charge, and Fine succeeded in having the case removed from Hennepin County court and police records, according to documents recently obtained by the Star Tribune.

So in the lede, we learn that Fine has a "domestic abuse" record, that the stories differ, and that it was expunged.

How long until we learn why?

Fine, who is the Fifth District Republican candidate, said in a recent interview that he never struck Wexler.

He said he sought to have his records expunged because he was innocent.

The fact that the record was expunged might lend some credence to that idea.
Wexler said Thursday that she agreed to drop the charges two to three weeks after the arrest only because Fine pressured her and because he promised to work out their problems in marriage counseling. The couple divorced the following year.
Domestic abuse charges are a common tool to gain leverage in during divorces and other breakups; they are the nuclear option for getting one's way in a divorce case. As many as half of all spousal and child-abuse cases brought during divorces are false, intended to manipulate the legal process.
In the interview and in court documents, Fine accused his ex-wife and her father, Hennepin County Judge Thomas Wexler, of conspiring in 1995 to stage a domestic incident and get him arrested for assault in order to make him "look bad" before he filed for divorce. "They wanted to have leverage in the divorce," Fine said. "I'm speculating here. I don't have proof."

Fine stated in an affidavit connected with the divorce proceedings that his then-wife "admitted to me, in the presence of another person, that she had made a mistake in having me arrested and that her allegations were untrue." Fine was asked repeatedly by reporters to identify who that other person was. He said he could not remember.

The fact is that, while women commit much more domestic abuse than they are normally held responsible for (some studies say over half), men are considered guilty until proven innocent when accused of domestic abuse.

Once accused/convicted, it's very difficult for a typical guy to clear his name. And yet Fine's record was expunged.

Fine was arrested by Minneapolis police and booked into the county jail for fifth-degree assault on June 2, 1995, according to the sealed police report obtained by the Star Tribune. Fine was shown the report and did not dispute its authenticity.

The report states that officers arrested Fine in his home at 3907 Zenith Av. S. after his then-wife told them that Fine had assaulted her. Police noted in the report that Fine had scratches on his face and chest. He was released from jail after several hours.

Unstated - did Ms. Wexler have any damage?


This is pretty typical for this sort of case. If there's a call - from either spouse - and the cops come mto the door to find a guy who does not have a knife sticking out his back, or a gunshot wound, then they frequently assume the man is the perp. Many police department are instructed to always arrest someone if they're called to a domestic - and that someone, assuming the guy isn't about to bleed out, is almost the man.

Fine, 44, who teaches at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, is running for the seat held for 28 years by Democrat Rep. Martin Sabo, who is retiring.

Fine said in an interview Wednesday that he sought to expunge his criminal record because he committed no crime. "I've never struck a woman in my life," he said.

The domestic situation between Fine and his ex-wife sounds like a mess, as described in the article.

But that's not the issue. The issue is, yet again, the Strib's slanted coverage of this story.

The Strib briefly notes their reportorial process:

The Star Tribune learned of the arrest in a routine records check after Fine won the Republican endorsement in May. The newspaper obtained the expunged record detailing the arrest two weeks ago.
wow. Isn't that convenient!

The Strib "obtained" the report two weeks ago...from whom?

If it was expunged, they couldn't have received it (as I understand it) from anyone official. So who could have had this record?

A party to the divorce? Oooh, that'd be opening up a world of legal hurt when and if it came out.

Who else could have had access to this report?

Stop me if I'm wrong (and I'll stipulate in advance that I could be), but as I turn this story around in my head, all roads lead back to someone in the Minneapolis or Hennepin County law enforcement or prosecutor's community. Which happens to be controlled by the same DFL party that Fine is running against.

Posted by Mitch at October 7, 2006 08:30 AM | TrackBack

I can't wait until they start publishing Fine's IMs and e-mails.

Posted by: Kermit at October 7, 2006 10:43 AM

Ms. Wexler should have claimed that Fine murdered her nine years ago, but that she luckily recovered. It would've made for a more powerful Star Tribune headline in the last days of the 2006 campaign: "Ex-wife claims Fine is a murderer."

Posted by: RBMN at October 7, 2006 10:47 AM

Minnesota doesn't do expungements (the word has various technical meanings.) What Minnesota does is "seal" records so that they supposedly can't be seen by the public. They can be seen by anyone in law enforcement or the court system (and in some states by employers for particular jobs), and if not in the top layer of the database, they're still there in the backups. As well, it's the responsibility of the person requesting the sealing to contact all of the places that the record(s) might exist, or have existed, and notify them of the "sealing". Since you don't know where the records might have been shared in this modern age, this is just not possible.

The idea was that any copies of the record were to be destroyed, the orginal was to be kept and sealed by the originating court for only its own use in documenting that the records had indeed been expunged, and the person could deny that the arrest, ... had occurred. Long ago and far away....

Posted by: htom at October 8, 2006 08:14 AM

Let's review...

The incident in question happened in 1995 but waited until 2004 to have the record expunged.

When asked why he waited so long, Fine responded, "I don't know. I just got around to it and did it,"

Hmmm... I just *got around* to cleaning out the gutters after 2 years...

I just *got around* to recaulking around the bathtub after 5 years...

If I had been arrested and charged with a crime I didn't commit, I'm pretty sure I would have *gotten around* to clearing my name sooner than 9 freaking years later...

Posted by: Doug at October 8, 2006 08:46 AM

Most courts require at least five years to pass before allowing expungements; some require five years past the statututory limitation on bringing charges for the alleged actions. Go ask your favorite criminal lawyer about the costs, consequences, and problems of sealing records. Remember, they're not really sealed.

And there appears to be no penalty for breaching the seals.

Posted by: htom at October 8, 2006 10:45 AM
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