- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A conservative investigative group kept up its attack Wednesday on Democratic attorney general hopeful Susan Happ, this time accusing her of going easy on a sex offender.

Happ, the Jefferson County district attorney, faces Brad Schimel, Waukesha County’s Republican district attorney, in the Nov. 4 election. Media Trackers has been pouring over Happ’s courtroom records for weeks looking for anything that paints her as soft on crime.

The group issued a news release Wednesday saying court documents show Happ’s office went easy on Anthony Hodan, who repeatedly found himself in trouble with the law in Jefferson County between late 2009 and this spring.

Happ’s office charged Hodan with two counts of sexual assault of a child under 16 in December 2009, when he was 19. The office ended up dismissing one count and amending the other to third-degree sexual assault in a plea deal. That count carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, but Happ’s office recommended that he serve 60 days in jail and 2½ years of probation.

Two days after a judge handed down that sentence, Hodan violated his probation by attempting to strangle his mother, stealing money from her, failing to report to his probation agent and failing to register as a sex offender. Happ’s office charged him with strangulation, battery and theft in March 2010 but ultimately dropped the battery and theft counts and recommended a sentence of three years of probation, 90 days in jail and two years in prison stayed in another plea deal.

The records also show that Happ’s office twice charged Hodan with resisting an officer in 2012, but both times dropped the charges in plea deals.

Her office charged him with two counts of sexually assaulting a child under 16 in 2013, but dropped one count in exchange for a guilty plea on the other. This time, her office recommended five years in prison and five years of extended supervision, which Judge Randy Koschnick imposed this April.

Earlier this month, Media Trackers accused Happ of letting an alleged child molester off with a deferred prosecution because he had bought her house a year before he was charged.

“We are beginning to see a very, very disturbing and troubling pattern,” said Brian Sikma, Media Trackers’ communications director.

Plea deals are hardly rare in criminal cases. They allow prosecutors to avoid the time and money involved in going through a trial and defendants to receive a less severe sentence than if they were to go to trial and lose. A judge has the final say on sentencing as well, not a prosecutor.

Happ’s campaign manager, Josh Lease, said it’s no surprise a “right-wing attack organization would paint any difficult case District Attorney Happ’s office has ever dealt with in a negative light.”

“This isn’t the sort of campaign for Attorney General the people of Wisconsin deserve,” Lease said in an email, “but it seems to be the one that Brad Schimel’s allies want.”

Schimel’s campaign said he doesn’t know the specifics of the Hodan cases. Hodan’s attorney didn’t immediately return a message.

Media Trackers has offices in Montana and Wisconsin. American Majority, an organization that trains conservative campaign strategists, organizers and consultants, helped found the Wisconsin operation in 2011. It now operates as part of Greenhouse Solutions, a conservative nonprofit organization. Sikma said Media Trackers accepts money from foundations and citizen donors but doesn’t take funds from candidates, political entities or elected officials.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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