A Wisconsin attorney once accused of sexual assault is now receiving an award from the State Bar of Wisconsin.
Stephan Addison is among 16 award recipients being honored by the State Bar at its annual meeting on June 21. But the announcement prompted critical responses from fellow lawyers and even the Wisconsin Attorney General.
Addison's award is for volunteer work he did with the Wisconsin Lawyers' Assistance Program.
But according to a criminal complaint, in 2005 he forced a woman to have sex with him after leaving a bar in Green Lake County. He was originally charged with three counts of first-degree sexual assault but took a plea deal for a lesser felony charge.
"It's a story that a lot of prosecutors know because it was such a dramatic attack," said Annie Jay, who is a prosector with the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
Jay says she received an email Wednesday about the award, that referred to Addison as someone who "responds with compassion and understanding while maintaining the highest ethical and professional standards."
"I couldn't believe it," she said. "We have survivors of sexual assault who are practicing attorneys in the State of Wisconsin. I can not imagine how they feel about their bar dues, which are about $500 a year, partially going to reward somebody like this."
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel criticized the message the state bar is sending with this award , saying in a statement, "this is a terrible lapse in judgment...he does not deserve to have his name listed alongside the 15 other distinguished attorneys and judges."
"I think about all the victims out there who have never come forward and this is the kind of thing that makes people not want to come forward," said Jay.
Paul Swanson, the president of the State Bar of Wisconsin responded to the award in a statement saying:
"The State Bar of Wisconsin has numerous committees that are comprised of member attorneys and many of those give service awards. The WisLAP Lawyer Assistance Program specifically provides assistance to lawyers who are confronting issues such as addiction and substance abuse, mental health, depression, and other stressors that affect their lives and practices.
Many of our volunteer attorneys for WisLAP have been through recovery programs themselves and have a background of substance abuse or other issues. They use those experiences to counsel other attorneys in need to help them in their recovery. The WisLAP Committee's annual volunteer award is presented to a volunteer attorney who provides substantial support and past behavior has not been a factor in consideration historically.
However, the WisLAP Committee will be reconvening to discuss this award and their selection. And, as President of the State Bar of Wisconsin, it is my recommendation that this nomination be withdrawn, acknowledging the seriousness of the issue of sexual assault and out of respect to survivors and victims."