Dialogue with the Oshkosh Northwestern

The Oshkosh Northwestern has a long track record of supporting former Winnebago County, WI DA Joe Paulus, which may explain the editorial it published on April 24, 2003.  Sheila Berry wrote an opposing view and received a  non-sequitur response with threatening overtones from the newspaper's managing editor.  We bring you here what Northwestern readers will not see.


In 1990, Sheila Berry, director of Truth in Justice, was employed as victim/witness assistance director in the Winnebago County, Wisconsin District Attorney's office.  When she learned from the victim in a media-driven sexual assault case that DA Joe Paulus had used perjured testimony to obtain the conviction of an innocent man, Mark Peterson, she reported it to the presiding judge, who in turn alerted the press.  Not unexpectedly, she was fired.  Appropriately, Peterson's conviction was vacated.  Several months later, Paulus' wife -- Sheila's cousin -- divorced Paulus.  The divorce was unrelated to the controversies in the Peterson case.  

Eight years later, Paulus -- dubbed "Hollywood Joe" because of his penchant for pursuing high profile cases --  was appointed special prosecutor in the John Maloney case.  Maloney was a 19-year veteran Green Bay, WI police officer convicted of murder, arson and mutilating a corpse in the death of his estranged wife, Sandy.  Sheila began a 3-year reinvestigation of the case which, based on the findings of a panel of forensic experts who reviewed the case pro bono, concluded no crimes were committed.  Maloney's state habeas petition is scheduled for hearing in Brown County, WI Circuit Court on May 21, 2003.

Paulus' house of cards began to tumble in late 2001, when he had every expectation of being appointed U.S. Attorney until his name was stricken from the list of nominees by Wisconsin Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold.  This may have been at least partially in response to receiving documentation that Paulus solicited an inmate to falsely testify that John Maloney sought a "hit contract" on Paulus.  The offer was reduced to writing, but rejected by the inmate.  In 2002, members of Paulus' own staff in the DA's office provided the FBI with documentation, among other things, Paulus had taken bribes to fix cases, and had sex with women in his office during office hours.  Paulus lost the primary election in September, 2002 and left office at the end of that year.  The FBI investigation and the federal grand jury investigation that followed were based in Washington, DC to prevent information leaks to anyone, including the news media.

Editorial: Unresolved allegations against DA need answers

One year later, the political smear campaign that rocked Winnebago County has little to show for it but unresolved allegations.

Winnebago County residents tolerated accusations, name-calling, charges, character assassination and personality posturing during the primary campaign for the District Attorney’s office. A situation like that should not repeat itself in a lifetime. Explanations and accountability will help put it to rest.

Bits and pieces were woven into theories that warned of grave problems in the office. The McCarthy-like atmosphere was unnecessary. To date the alleged serious crimes and misdemeanors produced little.

One factor in that time of one year has spoken volumes. It is the silence. The silence of authorities that typically expedite such cases suggests the basic charges were less than convincing.

The campaign seemed to hinge on that 1999 case, where Jelinski alleged money was handed from defendant Connie Christensen to a defense attorney under District Attorney Joseph Paulus. If there was a trail of money, it makes sense the trail would have been discovered by now.

Menasha Police Officer Ann Gollner was investigated for jumping jurisdictions and getting a statement from Christensen that $5,000 went to the aforementioned defense attorney, Milton Schierland. This was Jelinski’s trump card. Yet, one year later, the Menasha Police Department continues to hide the results of its Gollner investigation from the people by claiming the matter is “preliminary.”

The FBI is no stranger investigating government corruption and to date has found nothing.

Likewise, the Office of Lawyer Regulation appeared on the scene to field a complaint about Paulus’ conduct. It also has not made public its findings and won’t comment either on the request by circuit court judges Barbara Hart Key and Robert Haase about the Christensen case.

The right by the people to speedy resolution has been denied. The longer these questions that were raised go unanswered, the more that the validity of the original claims grow suspect.

It hurts tremendously that a smear campaign could happen in Winnebago County. It hurts even more when agencies charged with producing results have failed to do that.

One year later, the people of Winnebago County again have been cheated because there is no resolution to the events that made for such bad, bad history.

Justice delayed is indeed justice denied.

The Final Thought: The people of Winnebago County are owed several explanations about accusations made during the 2002 primary campaign for the office of District Attorney. The lack of action by authorities suggests the accusations were trumped up charges, but that doesn’t excuse those agencies from closing the matter.

Sheila Berry's Response

April 26, 2003 7:52 AM

I found the underlying premises of your editorial "Unresolved Allegations Against DA Need Answers" at best naive, and at worst, inexcusably uninformed.  Pulitzer Prize nominated reporter Bill Moushey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has complained that there is an entire generation of news reporters out there who know nothing about investigative journalism.  The assumptions on which your editorial is based appear to illustrate Moushey's point.

The FBI and federal grand jury investigations are based over 1,000 miles away -- for good reasons that are not difficult to deduce -- and they will proceed at their own pace.  Some John Doe proceedings in Wisconsin -- the William Evers RICO case is an example -- have continued for over a year before charges were issued.  The federal grand jury has been at work on this case for far less time than that.  Maintaining the secrecy of secret proceedings does not make the charges under investigation a "smear campaign". 

Investigations by the Office of Lawyer Regulation are notoriously slow.  These investigations do not result in criminal charges; they are concerned solely with an attorney's privilege to practice law.  Take a look at the published disciplinary actions against lawyers at the Wisconsin Supreme Court website and the first thing you should notice is that the underlying misconduct, on average, occurred more than 5 years before the discipline was imposed.

When news organizations become accustomed to lining up at the trough to be spoon fed by police and prosecutors and then regurgitate the official line in print, they get lazy.  If you truly believe the people of Winnebago County deserve answers, go out there and get them.  Investigate instead of regurgitate.

From the Managing Editor

4/26/03 6:13 P.M.

Dear Sheila:

It's fine if you disagree with the editorial but you are on a slippery slope when you present yourself an unbiased and impartial observer of the case. It doesn't take an investigative journalist to uncover your bias in the matter.

Jim Fitzhenry

James N. Fitzhenry
Managing Editor
Oshkosh Northwestern

Sheila's Reply

4/26/03 7:22 P.M.

Dear Jim:

I must be missing something.  Where did I present myself as "an unbiased and impartial observer of the case"?  Clearly, I am anything but unbiased and impartial, since my own investigation has uncovered a wealth of unlawful activity by Mr. Paulus -- no pun intended, because it has nothing to do with taking bribes to fix cases, nor am I referring to the ancient history of State of Wisconsin v. Mark Peterson.

My bias is shared by criminal profiler Brent Turvey, forensic pathologists Dr. Werner Spitz, Dr. John Adams, Dr. James Dibdin, toxicologist Dr. Larry Ytuarte, fire origin experts Dr. Gerald Hurst, Dr. James Munger, Chris Bloom, Gary Haun, Phillip Gaudette and George Van Doren.  They agreed that Sandra Maloney died of lethal BAC (.40%) and the fire at her residence was started by smoking materials dropped between the cushions of the sofa where she lapsed into an irreversible coma.  It's clear just from the evidence kept from the jury that Paulus knew he was prosecuting an innocent man.  It's equally obvious he was worried an appeal would uncover his egregious misconduct -- and Jim, that's a mild term to use when you destroy a man and his family by convicting him of crimes that never happened.

Paulus' concern about being found out surely lies at the heart of his offer to get Mark Price out of prison in exchange for falsely testifying that John Maloney solicited him for a "hit" contract on Paulus.  He offered "a resentencing and/or amendment of charges to a 30 year prison sentence" that would have made Price immediately eligible for parole. Price was assured Paulus could "take care" of moving Price to the same prison where Maloney was held to facilitate the frame up.  Paulus intended to use the new, false charges as a bargaining chip with Maloney, to force Maloney to drop his appeal.

Which brings me to a couple of other people who share my bias, Senators Kohl and Feingold.  It takes a special kind of stupid to put an unlawful offer like the one made to Price in writing, but that's what happened. Price rejected the offer, and some time later, he sent me the documentation.  Then Paulus was nominated for appointment as U.S. Attorney.   On November 6, 2001, the documentation was hand delivered to the senators.  Ten days later, they struck Paulus from the list of nominees.

As to my response to the editorial, I had been under the impression that the editorial page is intended for the expression of opinion.  You printed your opinion, and I gave you my opinion. Clearly, there is only room for one opinion in the pages of the Northwestern.  It's your lot, your bat, your ball, and you'll decide who plays the game.  Fortunately, I have my own lot and my own set of equipment.  I'm sure you won't mind me posting your editorial, my response and this exchange of correspondence there. 

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More on the DA allegations from Eye on Oshkosh

Police/Prosecutor Misconduct
How the System Works

Truth in Justice