A Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge has ordered the State of Wisconsin Claims Board to determine how much money will equitably compensate David Turnpaugh for his wrongful convictions in 2006 for soliciting prostitution and bail jumping. The ruling vacates the Claims Board’s December 19, 2012 award of $00.00 compensation to Turnpaugh.
In March 2006 Turnpaugh was convicted of soliciting prostitution from a police decoy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and jumping bail. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail on the solicitation conviction to be served by 3 days in jail and 57 days on electronic monitoring, and he was sentenced to one year on probation for the bail jumping conviction.
Turnpaugh appealed on the ground the prosecution introduced insufficient evidence to prove two essential elements of his solicitation conviction: He didn’t offer the policewoman any money, and he didn’t proposition her to have sexual intercourse. He also argued his bail jumping conviction should be overturned because it was based on his solicitation conviction.
In September 2007 the Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed Turnpaugh’s solicitation conviction based on the prosecution’s failure to introduce evidence proving the two essential elements, and it also reversed his bail jumping conviction that was directly connected to his solicitation conviction. See, State v. Turnpaugh, 741 N.W.2d 488, 2007 WI App 222 (2007).
The Circuit Court subsequently entered a judgment of acquittal on his solicitation and his bail-jumping convictions.
Wisconsin state law provides for a payment of $5,000 compensation for each year or part thereof an innocent person spends in custody up to a maximum of $25,000. (Wis. Stats. § 775.05(1))
Turnpaugh filed a claim with the State of Wisconsin Claims Board for $5,000 — that covered the one-year he was in custody for both convictions. He also requested an award of $13,682.89 reimbursement for his attorneys’ fees related to his trial defense, his appeal, and his Claims Board claim.
After a hearing on December 10, 2010 the Claims Board denied Turnpaugh’s claim. The Board ruled he “has not presented clear and convincing evidence that he was innocent of the crime for which he was convicted,” and that he “has failed has failed to show that he was imprisoned.” (State of Wisconsin Claims Board, Hearing of December 10, 2010, No. 4 — David R. Turnpaugh)
Turnpaugh appealed to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, which affirmed the Claims Board’s decision.
Turnpaugh then appealed to the Court of Appeals. On May 22, 2012 the appeals reversed the Claims Board’s decision, ruling in Turnpaugh v. Claims Board, No. 2011AP2365 (WI Ct of Appeals):
¶ 6 We reverse on both aspects of the legal issues presented by this appeal—(A) whether Turnpaugh proved his innocence by the requisite standard, and (B) whether he had been “imprisoned” as a result of his conviction—because the Claims Board’s legal conclusions are wholly unreasonable and directly contravene the statute it is charged with administering.
¶ 8 … as we have set out at length, there was no evidence in support of his conviction, and he was innocent as a matter of law. The Claims Board’s finding to the contrary is inexplicable.
¶ 9 The Board further concludes that the claimant has failed to show that he was imprisoned … Even giving the Claims Board the highest level of deference, this conclusion flies in the face of the statute …
¶ 11 We reverse the circuit court’s order and remand this matter to the Claims Board for an assessment of what “will equitably compensate” under the guidelines set out in Wis. Stat. § 775.05(4).
The Claims Board reconsidered Turnpaugh’s claim on December 12, 2012. He was again seeking $5,000 for his year in custody, but because of his appeals his claim for attorney’s fees had increased to $23,201.20, for a total claim of $28,201.20.
On December 19 the five-member Claims Board released their 4-1 decision that Turnpaugh was “equitably compensated” with an award of $00.00. The Claims Board’s majority decision was based on their finding that although Turnpaugh “is innocent as a matter of law,” he “contributed to his convictions” that were based on the policewoman’s testimony he agreed to pay to watch her masturbate — which is not illegal. The Claims Board ruled that “as a matter of equity” Turnpaugh’s legal conduct “discount[ed] any compensation to which he may have been entitled” for the one year he was wrongfully in custody.
Claims Board member Lena Taylor wrote a dissent that stated in part: “Mr. Turnpaugh has shown that by no recorded action or statement did he express his intent to solicit an act of prostitution nor did he partake in an act of prostitution. … These facts provide both clear and convincing evidence of his innocence. Given his clear innocence, the WI State Claims Board should have paid him based on equitable principles for the time he served as an innocent man imprisoned.”
Turnpaugh appeal of the Claims Board’s ruling raised two issues: “the Claims Board’s interpretation of the statute is erroneous in regards to what constitutes behavior contributing to a person’s wrongful conviction, and that it exceeded the scope of its authority on remand by determining eligibility, when the Court of Appeals had already held that he was eligible for compensation.”
On June 12, 2013 Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Paul Van Grunsven reversed the Claims Board’s ruling and ordered the case be remanded “to the Claims Board so that they may determine how much money would equitably compensate the Petitioner for his wrongful conviction and attorney’s fees.”
Judge Grunsven ruled in regards to Turnpaugh’s first claim:
“The Claims Board’s interpretation of the statute is unreasonable because it leads to an absurd result and further does not comport with the purpose of the statute. In this case, Petitioner offered to pay a woman to watch her masturbate. This is not a crime. It is not illegal. … However, by [the Board’s] logic, almost no one would be eligible for compensation under the statute because anyone arrested and charged with a crime they did not commit likely participated in some activity that created the suspicion that they committed the crime. … For example, under the Claims Board’s interpretation, a person wrongly charged with intent to buy drugs would not be eligible for compensation simply because they were standing on a corner in a bad neighborhood having a conversation with a known drug dealer. … This punishes perfectly legal conduct by assessing it through the lens of morality; because good people do not cavort with drug dealers this person does not deserve compensation. …
This type of analysis does not comport with the purpose of the statute, and creates a result where a person’s conduct is judged on a moral scale to determine whether they “deserve” compensation. Petitioner was arrested, charged, and imprisoned. He lost valuable time and money prosecuting his appeal. … Simply because his legal conduct is perhaps repugnant to some members of the Board is not an excuse to not compensate him for the injustice that was done upon him.”
In this case the Claims Board’s decision does not comport with the statute, and there is a more reasonable interpretation, as set out in the above analysis.” [6-8]
Since Judge Grunsven ruled Turnpaugh’s first claim warranted granting his appeal, he didn’t need to make a ruling on Turnpaugh’s second claim that the Board exceeded its authority in evaluating his case on remand from the Court of Appeals. However, Judge Grunsven suggested there was strong support for Turnpaugh’s position in stating: “the Court of Appeals remanded with instructions for the Claims Board to find “what will equitably compensate” Petitioner, and made no mention of any caveat, such as if he meets the other eligibility requirement.” 
The Claims Board can either comply with Judge Grunsven’s order and base their compensation evaluation solely on the facts of Turnpaugh’s case and the statute, or appeal his ruling to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.
Click here to read Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Paul Van Grunsven’s nine-page June 12, 2013 ruling in David Turnpaugh v. State of Wisconsin Claims Board,, No. 13-CV-000789 (Milwaukee County Cir. Ct.) (6-12-2013 – remand for compensation).
Justice Denied’s previous articles about Turnpaugh’s case are:
“David Turnpaugh Owed Compensation For Wrongful Convictions Says Appeals Court,” Justice Denied, June 12, 2012
“David Turnpaugh Awarded Compensation Of $00.00 By Wisconsin For Wrongful Convictions,” Justice Denied, January 10, 2013