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State Justice Department Joins Search for Missing Judge

July 10, 1985

KENOSHA, Wis. (AP) _ The search for a municipal court judge who has been missing for a month is being stymied by people who won’t cooperate with investigators, an official says.

″There is so much that is not being said by Fennema’s friends and acquaintances that it is hindering and hampering the investigation,″ said Kenosha police detective Lt. Michael Serpe.

Mark Fennema, 35, of Kenosha, was reported missing by his wife Carol on June 6, two days after he last conducted court. His car was found abandoned in Chicago several days later.

The law firm where he was a partner filed a complaint May 22 with the State Board of Attorneys Professional Responsibility accusing him of embezzling $90,000 in partnership and trust account funds. The board is an investigative arm of the state Supreme Court.

Fennema’s disappearance has been handled as a missing-persons case and he has not been charged with a crime.

″If we picked up Mr. Fennema tomorrow, we could not put him in jail without his cooperation,″ Police Chief Joseph Trotta said. ″It is touchy. He is 35 years old, a citizen, old enough to do what he wants if he doesn’t break the law, and there is nothing official to say the law has been broken.″

Kenosha County District Attorney Robert Zapf said the state Attorney General’s office has agreed to handle any prosecutions that may result from the investigation. Zapf said he had given his files on the case to Justice Department agents who have joined the case.

Zapf said he had not filed a complaint because police did an ineffective investigation. He said he believes the investigation should expand into other areas than that of a missing person.

″That’s not true. Under the conditions that we had, we treated Fennema just like any other missing person because that’s all we have to go on. I don’t know what he (Zapf) is talking about,″ Trotta said today.

Records filed in Kenosha County Circuit court showed Fennema was experiencing financial problems. A client had filed a $300,000 malpractice suit against him. His wife’s aunt started a lawsuit against him to recover $17,000 she said he owed her. The Internal Revenue Service has filed a lien for $8,000 in back taxes against him and his wife.

Two months before he disappeared, Fennema paid off nearly $80,000 on a land contract on his $87,000 home, avoiding eviction and removing two years of arrears on the property.

Fennema, elected municipal judge in April 1984, was paid $20,323 annually for the part-time job.

He joined the law firm of Ventura, Drowse and Wagner in January 1984 as a full partner. A spokesman for the firm who who did not want to be identified said the firm had asked Fennema to formally resign by May 30 and have his things removed by June 9.

The Kenosha Common Council declared Fennema’s post vacant on July 1.


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