Original URL: http://www.jsonline.com/news/metro/sep02/83493.asp
It's the type of wedding gift that only a district attorney can give - $3,000 in back child support for the fiancee of a fellow DA.
Two months after taking office as Outagamie County DA, Vince Biskupic, now the GOP nominee for attorney general, got a letter from Terry Shandonay, a single mom looking for a helping hand in collecting from a deadbeat ex-husband.
"I am asking you to initiate an action against my ex-husband in an effort to hold him accountable for the legal obligations he has incurred but has failed to honor," she pleaded to Biskupic in the Dec. 5, 1994, letter.
Sounding like the complete stranger, Shandonay even stroked Biskupic's ego a bit in an otherwise impersonal, nondescript five-paragraph letter.
"Congratulations on your recent election victory," she wrote. "As a citizen and taxpayer, I was particularly interested to learn that your prior prosecution experience was in Winnebago County. Winnebago County has been a leader in the State of Wisconsin in taking aggressive action against parents who fail to honor their child support obligations."
She should know.
Not stated in Shandonay's letter is her unique vantage point into the workings of that office. Just two months later, she would wed Winnebago County DA Joe Paulus, who hired Biskupic five years earlier and for whom Biskupic was working until he got elected to his own DA post.
Biskupic immediately placed Shandonay's ex in his cross hairs. In fact, he went after Jeffrey Sczesny over the modest sum of a few thousand dollars with such gusto that some Fox River Valley lawyers are still talking about the case.
Three weeks after being contacted by Shandonay, the fledgling DA fired off a letter warning that he planned to charge Sczesny with a felony for failing to pay child support. The terse note left the door open for resolving the messy matter out of court.
On Jan. 23, Biskupic went ahead with the threat of prosecution and slapped Sczesny with a felony. Four days later, things were worked out when Sczesny coughed up $1,000 and agreed to soon pay another $2,000 - a promise he kept. In exchange, the felony was dropped.
Oh, by the way, in between all this legal maneuvering, there was another big development in Shandonay's life:
On Valentine's Day, she and Paulus tied the knot.
The best man at the ceremony: Vince Biskupic.
Shortly thereafter, Joe Paulus adopted the child, and his new wife told the court that her ex-husband was now off the hook for future child-support payments.
"I think it smelled," said Sczesny's lawyer, Michael Dally, who still has a vivid recollection of the case seven years after it closed. "She was the fiancee of Paulus, the DA of Winnebago County, who was somebody's former boss, who may have been the best man at Paulus' wedding."
Dally said he obliquely raised some of the issues with Biskupic back in 1995, though he didn't confront the DA directly. Doing so could have hurt Sczesny, who, after all, secured a deal that kept him out of jail.
"I knew exactly what he was doing, but what am I going to do - bust my client's chops?" Dally asked. "I was concerned with my client, so I just dealt with my case."
Biskupic, who's busy campaigning to be the state's top law enforcement official, claims he doesn't understand what all the to-do is about. He treated the soon-to-be Mrs. Paulus as if she had been engaged to anybody else.
While handling the case, Biskupic said, he was told that Shandonay and his good friend were seriously involved but thought nothing of it since he didn't consider that relevant. He argued that she didn't try to use her Paulus connection as leverage.
"I didn't have a relationship with the mother or the child," Biskupic said Friday. "Mr. Paulus was not a party to the case."
The 38-year-old DA even downplayed his relationship with Paulus, who gave Biskupic his start as a prosecutor in 1989 and promoted him to deputy two years later. Paulus was defeated this month in a bitter re-election bid that focused on an federal investigation of his handling of drunken-driving cases and an explicit tape on which he bragged about a sexual conquest on his office desk.
In the Friday interview, Biskupic described himself as simply a witness at Paulus' wedding, though a local newspaper announcement referred to him as the best man. To this day, he said, he and his mentor have never talked about the case. As to his current relationship with the Pauluses, Biskupic said, "Socially, I don't think we've done anything this calendar year."
He emphasized that he has prosecuted more than 300 cases against deadbeat parents in his eight years as Outagamie County DA. Though the Shandonay case was obviously one of his first, he said he handled it perfectly and wouldn't have done anything differently.
Throughout a 25-minute interview, Biskupic repeatedly insisted - often using the exact same words - that he didn't give this matter any special attention or treatment, a position that is hard to believe.
"She was like every other single mom," he said.
Neither of the Pauluses returned telephone calls.
Biskupic contended that the case was coming to light now only because he is involved in his own heated election battle.
"I hope you're careful," Biskupic
said at the end of the interview. "I know what people peddle to you. We're
just going to focus on running a good campaign."
Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Sept. 29, 2002.