In Our Opinion: Court case was major waste of time and justice

Farm Forum

After months and months of evidence, investigations and accusations, the fate of two Brown County child advocates was decided quickly on Wednesday when a judge threw out all charges against the pair. The defense didn’t even have to present its case.

It was a shocking end to a high-profile legal mess that has roots dating back to 2010.

And while much of the county was transfixed on the saga of Shirley Schwab and Brandon Taliaferro, accused of witness tampering and subornation of perjury, among other charges, eyes should have been placed on the prosecution, building a case that apparently wasn’t there at all.

Veteran Judge Gene Paul Kean heard the arguments from Beadle County state’s attorney Mike Moore — tasked with prosecuting the case because of conflicts of interest at the Brown County State’s Attorney’s Office — and determined that there was nothing to the charges.

The story began more than two years ago. Richard Mette and then-wife Wendy Mette (today Wendy Larson) were charged with abuse-related counts in 2010 and 2011. Schwab, a court-appointed special advocate, and Taliaferro, then a Brown County deputy state’s attorney, worked on the case.

Then-state’s attorney Kimberly Dorsett spurred an investigation in November 2011 into Schwab’s and Taliaferro’s methods in gaining information and evidence from a witness in the Mette case.

In 2012, Richard Mette plead guilty to rape of a child younger than 10. Charges against Wendy Mette were dropped, and the two divorced.

At the conclusion of the Mette cases, witness tampering-related charges were filed against Schwab and Taliaferro after an investigation by Mark Black, a special agent with the state Division of Criminal Investigation. In court Tuesday, Black said he reviewed 2,500 emails taken from computers seized from Schwab’s home and office.

And in all those 2,500 emails, there was nothing brought forth to convince Judge Kean that the case had any merit. Nothing else discovered over the year yielded any concern from Kean, either.

In fact, the judge described the case as one of office politics and substandard investigation.

That the case fell apart so decisively, so quickly, leads us to question the whole endeavor. The hours, the staffing power and the money wasted is worrisome.

Not to mention the loss of two child advocates in a field where good people are needed. Two advocates who were wrongly accused.

There is a bright side to this. Larry Lovrien, Brown County’s new state’s attorney, has a great opportunity to usher in new standards and culture at the office. We hope that there will be repairs made to the system.