Dane County Circuit Court Judge William Foust handed down a sentence of six months jail time and more than $80,000 in restitution and fines to former State Sen. Brian Burke, D-Milwaukee, at the Dane County Courthouse Wednesday.
Burke struck a plea bargain with Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard in early October, admitting guilt to one felony count and one misdemeanor, both of which stemmed from charges that he misused his Capitol office for political purposes and obstructed police in his botched 2002 run for state attorney general.
"I like to think this is a positive move," Blanchard said after the sentencing. "But it's not a happy day for anybody. It is a case that had real consequences for a person, and true reform has to come from the public and those in positions of power."
Through an investigation into the Legislative Caucus Scandal, Burke — who was one of the most powerful Democrats in the state — was found to have illegally used his office to further his future campaign and criminally raised funds for the campaign.
"You had a long and distinguished career in public service. You brought that crashing down around yourself and your family, Mr. Burke," Foust said, noting he was a "young public defender" in Milwaukee at the same time Burke was a "young district attorney."
In his recommendation, Blanchard asked that Burke's sentence include two years probation with no more than a six-month jail term and $88,000 restitution. But Foust said probation was not appropriate in Burke's situation and would add to the already burdensome case load of probation agents.
"I thought it was a fair sentence. I thought it was appropriate and I thought the judge considered everything submitted by both parties," Blanchard said. "And it's a just result."
Burke was ordered to pay $75,000 in restitution to the state, along with $9,497 in legal fees and a $2,500 fine. Burke was granted a Huber work release, which will allow him to leave the jail during the day.
Though controversial, Foust said Burke could use money from his campaign fund to pay the restitution, as Burke's lawyers had originally requested. Foust said he gives Burke credit for acknowledging guilt and for his willingness to cooperate with the court.
Burke's attorney, Bob Freibert, asked Foust for leniency at the hearing, suggesting Burke serve the six-month term at his home. Freibert referred to Burke as a "marked man."
"Brian never personally profited from this," Freibert said. "He is a fallen angel — but he is not the devil."
Burke also made a statement at his sentencing, speaking of his regret for his past actions and the effect it has had on his family.
"I am deeply sorry for what I did and what I failed to do," Burke said. "I'm the one who made the wrong choices, and I failed the public. This is difficult because my wife and three daughters have suffered as much or more than I have."
Blanchard called University of Wisconsin professor of political science and public affairs Dennis Dresang to give his opinion at the sentencing hearing. Though Burke's attorneys argued Dresang's testimony was not appropriate for the sentencing, Foust allowed him to be heard.
Dresang testified actions such as Burke's have led citizens to believe offices of public servants are rife with corruption and said scandal has caused a shift in "public attitude and political culture."