A whistle-blowing martyr to some, an ambitious, rookie attorney to others, Edmund “E.J.” Jelinski did no wrong as far as Wisconsin’s lawyer conduct review board is concerned.
The Office of Lawyer Regulation decided and affirmed that the former Winnebago County assistant district attorney’s allegations of bribery against former District Attorney Joseph Paulus did not constitute professional “misconduct.”
“This has been a long time coming, but all of us held to the fact that what we said was true,” Jelinski said Monday, a copy of the Office’s dismissal of his former boss’s grievance taped to his Menasha office wall.
Last week, Paulus was charged in Green Bay U.S. District Court with accepting bribes via at least one unnamed defense attorney and tax evasion.
The first charge was the root of allegations Jelinski researched and first voiced in 2002. Paulus will be in federal court Monday to answer to the charges. He’s expected to enter into a plea agreement.
“I need to see (Paulus) say the words,” said Jelinski, 31, now a private attorney. “I’m going to be there.”
In an April 17, 2002, Office of Lawyer Regulation grievance, Paulus stated then-probationary assistant district attorney Jelinski “has been making representations that I received kickbacks in the form of money from defense attorneys in exchange for reductions or dismissals of drunk driving charges.”
Paulus called Jelinski’s allegations “outrageous assertions” involving “dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation.”
But the federal charges filed last week make similar accusations of Paulus, who, a federal filing states, split an attorney’s “client fee” in exchange for lenient charges, if not dismissals.
had the Office of Lawyer Regulation dismissal of Paulus’ counter
allegations weeks before the federal charges came down.
In an initial Dec. 15, 2003, letter, Office of Lawyer Regulation investigator Nancy L. Warner informed Jelinski, “It is the decision of the Director that the facts presented do not provide ‘clear, satisfactory and convincing’ evidence of misconduct.”
Paulus appealed the decision days after that notice. But in a March 12 letter sent to Jelinski, an Office of Lawyer Regulation committee affirmed the grievance dismissal for good.
As a matter of Office of Lawyer Regulation policy, Director Keith Sellen couldn’t comment on the status of any reviews into Paulus’ conduct. In 2002, two county judges forwarded at least one suspect case to the Office.
“I really can’t confirm or deny that,” Sellen said Monday.
Jelinski said he wants Paulus disbarred but has no opinion about potential prison time. He said Paulus’ federal charges and the Office of Lawyer Regulation’s decision brought “a deep sense of relief.”
That said, Jelinski echoes concern by Winnebago County District Attorney William Lennon and the state Department of Justice that there may be more tainted cases in Paulus’ tenure than the federal probe’s 22 cited from 1998 to 2000.
Jelinski said he also hopes the Office of Lawyer Regulation won’t overlook the conduct of Paulus’ assistants who, whether they had direct knowledge of wrongdoing or simply steered clear of shady deals, did not blow the whistle.
Both fired in May 2002, Jelinski said he and his ally and former Paulus assistant Thomas Chalchoff are considering what stance they may have to argue wrongful dismissal by Paulus.
“Where do we go with it? I don’t know,” he said. “But I hope the state isn’t going to stick its jaw out and say we were dismissed properly.”
James Simmons, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh political science professor, said the severity of charges against Paulus may vindicate Jelinski for those who questioned his airing allegations while simultaneously seeking the district attorney office.
“After the fact, I think the public that is following this case will understand this wasn’t just a negative campaign tactic used by a young attorney who wanted to catapult himself into the DA’s office,” Simmons said.
Jelinski said he, Chalchoff and another law firm partner recently formed PJC Group, a commercial development company that last week, amid the Paulus revelations, bought the former Gilbert Paper Co. building in Menasha.
The group hopes to transform the 1940s building into a mixed-use property, eventually containing his law firm’s offices, Jelinski said.
He is cool to the idea of running again for public office, despite the corruption allegations bearing fruit. He and Paulus lost the district attorney race to Lennon in 2002. Jelinski reneged on a pledge not to release secretly-recorded tapes he gathered of Paulus boasting about an old, in-office sexual tryst. He said he knew the tapes’ release would end his bid and Paulus’ re-election.
“It was the political equivalent to a murder-suicide,” Jelinski said. “We knew once the tapes were out, that was it.”
But Jelinski said he basically “didn’t like” campaigning door-to-door. “I don’t know if I would ever run again,” he said.
As for any interest in his seemingly ripe-for-Hollywood tale of scandal, whistle blowing and political intrigue, Jelinski said he, for now, isn’t interested in “a book or movie.”
“I’ve checked my voice mail for ‘Dateline’ every day,” he said. “Nobody’s calling yet.”
Alex Hummel: (920) 426-6669 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
||Truth in Justice