LANCASTER, Wis. -- A judge haunted by five ill-chosen words about a 5-year-old victim of a sexual assault staved off an attempt to remove him from the bench Tuesday.
William L. Reinecke, 52, a law-and-order judge in trouble with conservative constituents for calling the girl an 'unusually sexually promiscuous young lady', garnered 51 percent of the vote in a three-way recall election.
With 68 of the 69 precincts reporting, Reinecke had 6,970 votes to 5,933 for James Dahlquist and 742 for Norman Kvalheim. Only the small town of Harrison was not included and there were not enough voters there to change the results.
Dahlquist, 31, was supported by 'Citizens for Children,' the group that forced the recall vote.
Reinecke, 51, a veteran of 14 years on the bench, drew fire earlier this year when his comments from the bench in sentencing a 24-year-old farmhand came to light.
The man, Ralph Snodgrass, had been convicted of sexually assaulting the 5-year-old daughter of the woman with whom he was living.
Reinecke concluded Snodgrass was mildly retarded. The judge said the girl had had seen Snodgrass and the mother engage in sex and crawled into bed with him.
Reinecke said: 'I am satisfied we have an unusually sexually promiscuous young lady, and he did not know enough to refuse. No way do I believe Mr. Snodgrass initiated sexual contact.'
Snodgrass was sentenced to a 90-day work-release jail term and probation.
A recall drive was organized almost immediately. Reinecke, admitting his remarks were ill-chosen, apologized. But the drive gained 5,351 signatures, well over the 3,798 required to force a recall.
Reinecke, recently separated from his wife of 26 years, is the father of eight, including two daughters. The couple has two granddaughters.
He said attempts to link the end of his marriage to the furor over his comments were unfounded. He said an unsolicited letter of support from his former wife, Rita, to area newspapers put 'that idea to rest.'
'Citizens for Children' organizers at first had trouble finding a candidate to oppose Reinecke, who was supported by most attorneys in largely conservative, southwest Wisconsin Grant County.
Reinecke also had the support of other judges in the area and, until the Snodgrass incident, had gained a reputation as a tough, law-and-order judge.
Dahlquist attacked Reinecke during the campaign as arrogant and insensitive. Kvalheim refused to criticize either of the other two candidates, described Reinecke as a 'satisfactory judge' and said he was running only because more than 5,000 people sought an election.