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Appeals court affirms verdict for female teacher who had sex with teen

WAUSAU -- In an early July decision, a Wisconsin appeals court upheld a Pierce County jury’s decision that a boy and his father would receive no compensation from the teacher who sexually assaulted the teen.

The 10-page District III Court of Appeals decision says that instead of clearly explaining the legal grounds for their arguments, attorneys for Jacob Brekken and his father, Christopher Brekken, focused on trying to convince the appeals court to establish “bright-line rules,” or clearly defined standards, related to the issues in the case.

“For instance,” says the decision, “they urge us to establish a bright-line rule that the type of contact that occurred between Jacob and (Ann) Knopf is ‘offensive contact’ as a matter of law. They also ask us to establish a bright-line rule, applicable in civil cases, that a 13-year-old is legally incapable of consenting to sexual activity with an adult.”

The three-judge panel said it would not do that, adding that the Brekkens should have raised their arguments in county court at the correct time, and by failing to do that gave up their right to raise those arguments on appeal.

According to background in the ruling, Jacob met Knopf in early 2006 when she was a substitute teacher in his sixth-grade English class.

He began dating her daughter later that year. After that relationship ended in December 2006, Jacob and Knopf began communicating by instant messaging and email.

Their communications turned romantic, and they engaged in sexual relations on two occasions in May 2007 when Jacob was 13 and Knopf was 38.

She was charged in Pierce County criminal court, pled guilty to one count of second-degree sexual assault of a child, was sentenced to nine months in jail and placed on probation for five years.

In October 2008, the boy’s father filed a civil lawsuit against Knopf, asking for monetary damages for his son and himself. The suit alleged battery -- offensive bodily contact and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

At the end of the three-day January 2013 trial, the jury found that Knopf did not intentionally cause offensive contact with the teen and her conduct was not intended to cause emotional distress to him or his father.

Jurors answered a 21-question verdict form, finding Knopf’s conduct was “extreme and outrageous” and that she caused emotional distress to the boy and his father but awarded them nothing for battery or emotional distress or for punitive damages.

On appeal the Brekkens argued that Pierce County Judge Joe Boles should have answered two questions as a matter of law and ruled that the Knopf had intentionally caused offensive bodily contact with the teen and that because of his age, the boy couldn’t have consented to the contact.

But, said the appeals court, the Brekkens’ attorneys should have raised those objections during the verdict conference before the jury was sent out to begin deliberations. Because the lawyers acquiesced in giving those questions to jurors, they can’t now complain that the judge should have answered them, says the decision.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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