LINCOLN — A University of Nebraska-Lincoln faculty member contended Friday that Republicans just wanted to shut her up by calling her a vandal.

A judge found Patricia Wonch Hill, a nontenured sociology researcher at UNL, not guilty late Friday afternoon of vandalizing Sen. Deb Fischer’s Lincoln campaign office door about a year ago. Lincoln prosecutors had charged Wonch Hill with putting an inappropriate sign and bumper stickers on the door.

“This was a huge waste of police resources,” Wonch Hill said afterward. “And it was a huge waste of the taxpayers’ money.” She said someone should investigate the time and cost involved in bringing this case to a futile trial.

Lancaster County Judge Joseph Dalton said at the end of a trial that spanned parts of three days that the prosecutors failed to prove their allegations. Dalton said he believed that Wonch Hill’s fingerprints were, in fact, on some of the evidence but that the evidence against her failed to surpass reasonable doubt.

The stickers promoted a group of activists called Betsy Riot. The sign said Fischer loves rapists, apparently a reference to her support of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who has been accused of past sexual misconduct.

But the Wonch Hill case is best known for Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s claim that she placed “googly eyes” on one or more of his campaign signs and that she changed his name on one to “Fartenberry.” The Fortenberry charge was dropped this fall, and only the Fischer charge, a misdemeanor, remained.

Both Fischer and Fortenberry represent Nebraska.

Wonch Hill hugged some friends in the Lancaster County courtroom, then verbally went after Nebraska Republicans. She said she would file an ethics complaint against Fortenberry in the U.S. House of Representatives for running up taxpayer costs to try to smear a citizen.

Wonch Hill said some Republicans wanted to muzzle her views, such as her opposition to the National Rifle Association. She said they have seen her at public hearings with anti-NRA signs or speaking out against Republican views.

Contacted Friday evening, Ryan Hamilton, executive director of the Nebraska GOP, called Wonch Hill’s assertions “patently absurd.”

Hamilton said society must learn to air disagreements in a civil way, then seemed to link Wonch Hill again to the vandalism.

“The line is really drawn at the destruction of property,” he said.

Fortenberry declined to comment. An attempt to reach a Fischer representative was unsuccessful.

Wonch Hill’s attorney, Marc Delman, said putting a couple of stickers on a door and taping a sign to it are not a crime.

“I can tell you, all this is, is free speech,” he told the judge. “It’s not vandalism.”

Delman also argued against how and when the fingerprints were collected. And he claimed that the Lincoln Police Department didn’t care about the case until Fortenberry applied pressure. Furthermore, he said, his client didn’t commit the act.

Dalton said he believed that the act “marred or defaced” the door, and thus qualified as vandalism. But the evidence against Wonch Hill was merely circumstantial, he said.

Wonch Hill also said after the trial that some Republicans want to defund public K-12 education and UNL.

She cited examples of Republicans tangling with UNL faculty members or inserting themselves into university matters.

“I love our land-grant university; I went there,” said Wonch Hill, 39, who grew up in North Platte. “And UNL has given me many opportunities.”

Wonch Hill pleaded no contest last year to splashing fake blood on the steps of the East Coast home of a lobbyist for the NRA.

Fortenberry has said his point was made simply by the fact that a charge was filed against Wonch Hill. That charge was dropped with the notation that it could be filed again.

rick.ruggles@owh.com, 402-444-1123

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