No windfall for absentee father in son’s death, Wisconsin judge says

In their race to pass legislation, lawmakers often don’t have or don’t take enough time to fully think about what they’re passing. Then, it’s up to courts to clean up the mess.

And that’s just what a circuit judge in Milwaukee did yesterday in deciding what happens to money in the estate of Brandon Johnson, 25, who entered a mental health facility, unable to walk, and was diagnosed with “delusional paralysis”, a clinical way of saying it was all in his head. It wasn’t. He died of blood clots and blunt force trauma to his neck.

A lawsuit awarded the estate $837,000 after the lawyer’s share.

Under Wisconsin’s law, that money goes to his parents. And there’s the rub.

There’s a man who provided the sperm that created Brandon — Marcus Crumble raped his cousin when she was only 15 — but he never helped raise the boy, paid only a few months child support, and he took off to California.

He had some contact with Brandon when he graduated high school, but when there was money on the table after Brandon’s death, he wanted a cut. Technically, the law says he’s entitled to it.

At a hearing in July, Crumble’s attorney said all the facts surrounding Crumble’s relationship with Brandon may be true, but they’re not relevant. Because there’s the law.

But there’s the law, and there’s the absurd result of the law, the judge said.

“Under the tragic facts and circumstances of this case, including the fact that Mr. Crumble committed both statutory rape and incest, this Court will not allow a six-figure windfall to be awarded to Mr. Crumble,” Judge David Borowski ruled yesterday after a short trial.

“The Court has seen far too many absent fathers in this community. Out of wedlock births, where a ‘father’ both literally and figuratively abandons a child are a scourge,” he wrote, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

It is an accurate reading, but perhaps an absurd result, that if Brandon died at 17 years and 364 days Mr. Crumble would have been statutorily disinherited from Brandon’s estate, but it Brandon had died one day later Mr. Crumble would be able to inherit despite having abandoned his child,” Borowski wrote.

Perhaps, Borowski wrote, lawmakers thought anyone 18 could create a will and direct their estate not go to an abandoning parent. But he noted that very few unmarried people without children under 30 actually create a will.

He said the equitable powers of the probate court allow him to find that allowing Crumble half of the settlement would amount to unjust enrichment.

Borowski ordered that the estate’s special administrator pay Crumble only the amount he spent for Brandon’s funeral, give half of the remaining $837,000 to Alicia Johnson, and keep the balance for 90 days, or longer if Crumble appeals.

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