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Curt Johnson pleads not guilty

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Curt Johnson preliminary hearing
Curt Johnson arrives his court to waive his right to a preliminary hearing in Racine County Circuit Court Wednesday April 13, 2011. Johnson, the former chairman of Diversey, is charged with repeated sexual assault of a minor. / Mark Hertzberg

RACINE - Curt Johnson has entered an initial not guilty plea to charges that he repeatedly sexually assaulted a girl he knew.

Johnson, 55, is the son of the late Sam Johnson and Gene Johnson. Until recently, he ran Diversey, one of the Johnson family companies. He resigned his position as chairman about a month before the criminal case against him was filed.

Johnson was scheduled for a preliminary hearing Wednesday morning, but chose to waive that proceeding. Had he gone forward with it, the state would have been required to call witnesses to present evidence that the crime charged was committed and that Johnson likely committed it.

By waiving the hearing, Johnson released the state from that responsibility.

He then entered a not guilty plea, which sets the case to move forward. His attorneys asked for the case to be set for a pretrial conference, which will happen May 20. They also requested the case be set for a jury trial. That has not yet been scheduled.

Before and during the hearing Johnson sat quietly at the defense table, hands clasped on the table in front of him. He wore a watch and a wedding ring.

In court, he respectfully answered every question the judge put to him, including during a brief dialogue about whether he had read the hearing waiver form or whether it had been read to him.

"It's obvious to me, based on your educational background that you obviously can read and write the English language yourself," said Racine County Circuit Court Judge Gene Gasiorkiewicz.

"That's correct, Your Honor," Johnson responded.

"I don't by any means mean to be demeaning by these questions," the judge went on to say. "They are questions I do need to ask everyone."

"I understand, sir."

"It does indicate, however, on the document that's been presented to me, that rather than you reading the document yourself it was read to you."

"Yes, Your Honor."

"Was that for convenience sake or for some reason you were unable to read it today?"

"No, I read the document."

Johnson was charged March 23 with repeated sexual assault of a child, for allegedly abusing the girl, now 15, over the course of several years. If convicted, he could face up to 25 years in prison and 15 years extended supervision.

Johnson is not in jail, having paid $500,000 cash to remain out of custody. He has been ordered to have no contact with the victim or any minor female children unless in the presence of another adult. He has also surrendered his passport and been told not to leave the state.

According to the criminal complaint, Johnson is alleged to have had inappropriate sexual contact with the girl as many as 15 to 20 times. The girl told authorities the inappropriate behavior started when she was between sixth and seventh grade, and that the last incident happened in November.

She reportedly told someone at the Child Advocacy Center that Johnson had a "touching problem" and that he was a "sex addict."

She said Johnson kissed her on the mouth and touched her inappropriately under her clothes. She also told authorities that Johnson asked to have sex with her, but she refused.

Portions of the criminal complaint against Johnson have been sealed, along with the contents of the defense motion requesting the seal motion.

Johnson had been chairman of Diversey, a commercial cleaning products company, since it spun off from SC Johnson in the late 1990s, when it was called Johnson Wax Professional.

Johnson's sister, Helen Johnson-Leipold, became Diversey's new chairman when he took the leave.

Johnson earned a total of $8.2 million in 2010, of which $650,000 was salary and the rest was stock awards and other incentive pay, according to the latest Diversey Inc. report to the Securities and Exchange Commission. He lived in Caledonia when the charges were filed, but the court system now lists him as living in Wind Point.

Johnson is one of four children of Gene Johnson and the late Sam Johnson. Fisk Johnson heads SC Johnson and Johnson-Leipold is the CEO of Johnson Outdoors and the chairman of Johnson Financial Group. 

Editor's note: This article is closed to comments because it involves an alleged sexual assault of a child.


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