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Private Interest in Public Contract, § 946.13(1)(a) — Sufficiency of Evidence

State v. Paul Venema, 2002 WI App 202
For Venema: Randall R. Garczynski

Issue/Holding:

¶20 We reject Venema’s argument that a contract has to be in existence in order for a violation to occur under Wis. Stat. § 946.13(1)(a). Such an interpretation is undermined by the plain meaning of the statutory language. The common meaning of “negotiate” is to “communicate with another party for the purpose of reaching an understanding[.]” Black’s Law Dictionary 1059 (7th ed. 1999). Consequently, negotiation ordinarily precedes the formation of a contract and it is these precontractual bargaining relationships that raise the specter of self-interest if one of the parties is also a public official. By contrast, the practical effect of Venema’s technical construction is to read the words “negotiate, bid or enter” completely out of the statute or render them surplusage. This we cannot allow. See Donaldson v. State, 93 Wis. 2d 306, 315, 286 N.W.2d 817 (1980).

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