The Journal Sentinel

Woman accused of trying to influence testimony

of the Journal Sentinel staff
Aug. 27, 2002

Port Washington - A Town of Belgium woman who authorities say offered to buy her neighbors dinner if they would lie for her during her divorce proceedings has found herself facing the rarely used charge of solicitation of perjury.

Julie A. Stewart, 39, has been ordered to appear in court Sept. 4 before Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Tom Wolfgram to answer the charge. She could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Perjury is a rarely used charge because it is difficult to prove someone lied, said Janine Geske, acting dean of the Marquette University Law School and a former state Supreme Court justice.

"I can remember a couple of perjury charges being filed when I was on the criminal bench," Geske said. "Those were usually filed as a result of something that happened during a civil action."

The problem with a perjury charge is that either someone has to be willing to say they were asked to lie in court or someone has to testify they knew a witness was lying, Geske said.

"But when someone is willing to stand up and say they were asked to lie, which is clear evidence, prosecutors will charge," Geske said.

That's a key way to maintain the legal system's integrity, Geske said.

In Stewart's case, a complaint filed by Assistant District Attorney Adam Gerol says Stewart approached her neighbors on May 10 and asked them to say they had seen her Brian Stewart, who was then her husband, take things out of the couple's house on May 1, 2001. Brian Stewart had been served with divorce papers and a restraining order that day.

The Stewarts were scheduled to appear in court May 10.

Julie Stewart wanted a husband and wife who lived next to her to say that they had seen her husband remove boxes and firearms from the house between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., which apparently would have been in violation of the restraining order, according to the complaint.

"She stated her credibility had been damaged during the course of her divorce hearing and she needed (the neighbors to) support her in this manner," the complaint says.

The neighbors said Julie Stewart offered to take them out to dinner if they testified on her behalf at the hearing but they said they would not testify because they had not seen Brian Stewart take anything out of the house, according to the complaint.

About an hour later, Julie Stewart called the neighbors and a left a message saying her attorney might call them and ask that they appear in court, the complaint says. If they were still unwilling to do so, they were to tell the attorney that they were leaving on vacation and had to catch a plane, the complaint says she told the neighbors.

The complaint says both neighbors knew they would be committing perjury if they testified about something they never saw.

Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Malloy granted the divorce May 29.

Julie Stewart's divorce attorney, Robert F. Sfasciotti of Kenosha, "has nothing to say," a receptionist who answered in the phone at his office said.

Brian Stewart's attorney, Hazel Jean Washington, did not return a reporter's phone calls.

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Aug. 27, 2002.