Posted Dec. 29, 2002
DA Joins Boyle Law Practice
By Alex Hummel
Joseph Paulus will cross the courtroom aisle in one week, and he could wind up defending accused criminals in the same rooms where he locked others away.
In a 180-degree career turn, Winnebago County’s outgoing 16-year district attorney said he will open an Oshkosh office and work as a criminal defense lawyer for Milwaukee attorney Gerald Boyle.
Paulus goes to work Jan. 6 after William Lennon officially takes over the seat of Winnebago County district attorney. He defeated Paulus in a bitter Sept. 10 primary.
“It will be Boyle, Boyle and Paulus,” Paulus said last week, in the first disclosure of his future plans.
“I’m excited about it actually,” he said. “Obviously, criminal law is my specialty. I think it will present some unique and interesting challenges in what I call the second phase of my career.”
Paulus, 43, said he has no qualms about making a change that will require him to defend even potentially guilty clients after 16 years prosecuting them.
“That’s the adversary system,” he said. “It’s the defense counsel’s role to challenge the state and make the state prove their case. It’s not just, ‘Did he do it?’”
At age 26 in 1989, he was sworn in as district attorney after a few years as an assistant under state Attorney General-elect Peg Lautenschalger. Now, he is moving on after a tumultuous summer election. In fact, he’s drawing on the tumult for some inspiration in his crossover to the defense.
“This summer, I gained some insight on what it means to be accused,” he said.
His primary loss to Lennon was preceded by allegations that could have swayed voters. In May, he denied allegations that he OK’d reduced charges for defendants represented by favored defense attorneys. It spawned an FBI investigation – still unresolved, if it is even ongoing.
Milwaukee FBI Special Agent Barry Babler declined to comment Friday on the status of the investigation or whether one still is ongoing.
Paulus also apologized in August for what he said was fictitious “boy talk” captured in a secretly recorded audio tape made by his political challenger and former assistant prosecutor Edmund Jelinski. Paulus bragged during a March car trip about having an affair with a woman in his office during a work day years ago.
He said last week he has never been contacted by the FBI, had nothing to add on the tape and treats the election as a footnote in his prosecutorial career. Boyle backs him up.
“I think he (Paulus) is an outstanding lawyer,” Boyle said. “There’s just no question about it. I think what happened to him in this election with that guy (Jelinski) who worked for him coming out with that tape – it made me nauseous.”
Boyle and Paulus
Boyle and Paulus were opponents who earned each other’s respect in one of the highest-profile murder cases in state history. John Maloney, a Green Bay police detective, was convicted of murdering his wife, Sandy, and burning her body to hide the crime. Paulus served as special prosecutor and Boyle as defense attorney.
Both said they admired the other as legal eagles in that 3-year-old Brown County court fight. Boyle called it “mutual respect,” even though they still don’t agree on the outcome. He still argues John Maloney wasn’t the killer. Paulus still is dead set Maloney did it.
“I’m just delighted that Joe’s going to come on board,” Boyle said. “I consider it a great blessing for my law firm. I think Joe’s an outstanding lawyer. We became very, very close friends as a result of having to go to battle in Green Bay.”
The partnership likely is rile Maloney’s supporters who have long suggested Paulus and Boyle ignored exonerating evidence they say shows Sandy Maloney died accidentally. They even have a Web site, www.johnmaloney.org.
Boyle said John Maloney’s camp is on the wrong track. And he said any assertion he and Paulus were in cahoots three years ago is bordering on slander.
“To hell with them,” Boyle said, when asked if he expects Maloney’s supporters to cry foul over Paulus’ hire. “It’s not their business to say who can do things. To try and find some conspiracy in this -- the fact of the matter is I still think he (Maloney) is innocent, and Paulus thinks he is guilty.”
Said Paulus of his new partnership: “I really don’t care what the Maloney camp thinks about how I feed my family. I can choose to work with whoever I choose to work with. The Maloney camp has been chasing ghosts and shadows, and they’d be well served to get on with their lives.”
Friend or foe
Paulus’ switch to criminal defender may put him in the courtroom opposite some of the 11 Winnebago County assistant prosecutors he currently oversees. He started 14 years ago with five assistants under his watch.
“I tease them about it already,” Paulus said. “I won’t be their boss anymore, but they certainly know my skill level. … But that’s their problem.”
Boyle’s and Paulus’ new office will be located in Oshkosh attorney George Curtis’ State Highway 44 Curtis Law Office building, Paulus said.
“I gather he (Paulus) is going to be remembered differently by different people depending on whether they considered him friend or enemy,” said Curtis, musing on Paulus’ prosecutorial career.
Twice in his career Curtis defended accused murderers against Paulus’ jury trial prosecutions. Twice Curtis lost, although one conviction was on a charge reduced from first-degree murder to negligent homicide.
“He (Paulus) was as good a trial lawyer as any of them,” said Curtis, who supported Democrat Brad Priebe, an assistant district attorney, in the election. “But being a DA is as much about disciplined public service and even-handed justice.”
Mark Nielsen, a Winnebago County board supervisor who served as Paulus’ campaign treasurer, said he knows Paulus the prosecutor but not as well as the family man with five kids.
“If you don’t know Joe or know him from the courthouse, it’s very different than Joe the father,” Nielsen said, conceding that, to Paulus’ critics, a comment like that prompts groans.
“He’s very dynamic. He’s not one layer,” Nielsen said.
He expects his long-time friend will do fine as a defense attorney.
“He loved to protect the victims, to go out and get the bad guy,” Nielsen said. “But times have changed. And, yes, it is a 180-degree turn.”
Paulus said he wants his reputation as an aggressive prosecutor carry over to the defense.
“I don’t mean to insult anyone, but I think it’s no secret there is shortage of highly qualified, aggressive defense attorneys in the state of Wisconsin,” he said.
He said he sought out the higher-profile prosecutions to come Winnebago County’s way. But he said, in his view, that’s what the electorate expects from the district attorney it chooses.
His campaign turned his resume of convicted murderers and molesters, complete with mug shots of each of the criminals, into a print ad before Sept. 10. He said last week the one with the most impact countywide was the conviction of Kelly Coon in 1991.
Coon was convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering 2-year-old Amy Breyer after DNA evidence linked him to the crime. The tests, done at a California laboratory and virtually unheard of in the state at the time, paved the way for commonplace DNA testing in Wisconsin today.
“People were really shocked that this kind of brutal crime could happen right in their backyard,” Paulus said.
He said the population surge in the Fox Valley has led to increases in crimes. However, he credits local law enforcement and advocacy groups with taking away the stigma of sexual assaults, domestic abuse and crimes against children. More people are alerting police and prosecutors to offenses previously too taboo to talk about, let alone spawn charges, he said.
“That doesn’t happen by accident,” he said. “That happens with effective players in the criminal justice system.”
He said penalties for drunken-driving homicides have changed significantly while he was district attorney. He cited the recent case of Paul Nigl, who killed two women north of Oshkosh while driving under the influence of cocaine and alcohol. Nigl got 60 years in prison – a sharp contrast to the five years handed down for similar crimes little more than a decade ago, Paulus said.
“I think it will only get tougher, too,” he said.
And as it does get tougher, Paulus is the guy the accused may call for help.
Eventually, he and Boyle may end up working together on the high-profile defense work for which Boyle is nationally sought.
Paulus said he may even assist in defending Boyle’s client John Patrick Feeney in an ongoing priest-abuse case in Outagamie County.
He wouldn’t go into detail on what his going rate may be.
“I’m reasonable,” he said. “I’m willing to help people if they need help.”
He said he’s “aware of some things (cases) coming up I’ve been asked to handle” after Jan. 6.
“But I’m not focused on that yet,” Paulus said. “We’ll just see if the phone rings.”Alex Hummel: (920) 426-6669 or firstname.lastname@example.org