Japan rape case leads to legal clash in Milwaukee
MILWAUKEE — An Australian woman who won a Japanese civil judgment against a former American seaman she accused of rape 10 years ago has brought her long legal fight against her attacker to Milwaukee.
But whether a Wisconsin court will enforce the judgment is far from decided, as the man she blames for sexual assault denies a crime occurred and has hired his own lawyer to fight the unusual action.
Catherine Jane Umehara, more widely known as Catherine Fisher, sued Bloke Deans earlier this year, asking that a Wisconsin court order Deans to pay about $61,000 in damages that a Japanese court had ordered in 2004.
Her attorney, Christopher Hanewicz of Madison, ar gues that the state can enforce the Japanese order under the Uniform Foreign Money Judgments Recognition Act.
Deans' attorney, Alex Flynn of Milwaukee, objects to the claim of jurisdiction and sought to have the suit dismissed. Milwaukee County Circuit Judge William Pocan has not thrown the case out, and it remains pending.
"This doesn't come across your desk every day," said Flynn, regarding the legal novelty of the case. "We really have no comment, other than we look forward to litigating. And we are confident in the outcome."
Fisher's case has generated publicity in her native Australia, where it was the subject of an Australian "60 Minutes" television news program; in Japan, where she has lived since 1980; and in the widely read British news magazine The Economist.
The Australian consulate staff in Chicago even attended one of the hearings in Milwaukee earlier this year.
"We have an interest obviously in providing the kind of support a government should provide its citizens," Deputy General Consul Lorenzo Strano said. "These are very delicate issues. When people come up against barriers, we try to assist as we can.
"We're not normally involved in civil matters," Strano said. "This case is a bit different."
Fisher, 41, has become one of Japan's first and only rape victim advocates. She maintains a website called Warriors Japan.
"I have been very strong in the media advocating strongly for negotiating with the Japanese government to establish the first government-funded 24-hour rape crisis center in Japan and to duplicate them throughout Japan and also to set up a sensitive crime team inside of the government to deal with crimes particularly involving U.S. military," Fisher said in an email.
Two U.S. sailors and a Marine were accused earlier this year of two rapes in Okinawa, Japan, prompting angry reaction from Japanese officials and putting Fisher back in the limelight as a spokeswoman for greater rape victim advocacy in the country.
In early November, she delivered a letter to the commander of U.S. forces in Japan and the U.S. ambassador to Japan. She thanked them for their public concern for the victims of the recent claimed sexual assaults by U.S. servicemen, and the officials' announced intention to fully cooperate with investigations.
According to a translation of the lengthy Japanese civil court judgment, on file in the Milwaukee County case, Fisher didn't get that kind of reaction in her case.
Court records show Fisher met Deans in April 2002 at a bar near the American naval base at Yokosuka, and then was violently assaulted inside her van.
She went to U.S. military police nearby, who called the Japanese police, but says she discovered that they do not approach the investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults with anything near the perspective that Australian and American authorities do. She said she was mocked and insulted by Japanese police, held for 12 hours and denied medical treatment or the preservation of evidence.
Then, Fisher told " 60 Minutes Australia," that police told her she would have to re-enact — with a police officer — what she claimed happened to her in her van. She refused, and so a male and female officer took positions for photographs based on what Fisher told them had occurred.
According to the Japanese court records, Deans submitted a written statement that Fisher came on to him, that their sex was consensual and that she threatened to accuse him of rape if he didn't stay with her.
Deans was never prosecuted and left the Navy and Japan by the time Fisher brought her civil claim there.
Fisher did collect some of the Japanese Ministry of Defense fund kept to compensate victims of crimes committed by U.S. military personnel.
Deans, 40, owns several rental properties in Milwaukee, according to records. Earlier this year he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child neglect and was sentenced to probation. He has no other criminal record in Wisconsin.
When a film crew from "60 Minutes Australia" approached him earlier this year, Deans laughed about the value of his many houses, saying he bought several for as little as $3,000, and called Fisher's claim a lie before declining to talk further and driving off.