Wisconsin State Journal


Justice demands higher standards
A Wisconsin State Journal editorial
October 6, 2007

Prosecutors across Wisconsin should reject the troubling tactics of Dane County Assistant District Attorney Paul Humphrey.
Ordinary people trust prosecutors with tremendous power and discretion to fight crime. They want prosecutors to aggressively pursue violators, but they also trust that those prosecutors will not unfairly wield the power of government against individuals.

When prosecutors violate that trust, the entire justice system in Wisconsin suffers a blow to its reputation and authority.

Wisconsin State Journal reporter Dee Hall last week detailed in a four-part newspaper series 10 cases Humphrey mishandled, sometimes with terrible results. Three allegations of unethical conduct from one of those cases are now before a state disciplinary panel.

No matter the outcome of the state 's notoriously weak disciplinary process for attorneys, Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard needs to take further action.

Humphrey may be a hardworking assistant district attorney who has put plenty of bad guys behind bars during his 17 years.
 
But the incidents documented in the newspaper series suggest Humphrey also has let arrogance and spite cloud his judgment.
It appears that Blanchard, Humphrey 's boss, has demoted Humphrey. Blanchard also put a letter of reprimand in Humphrey 's file related to one case.

Yet Blanchard needs to do more. To ensure Humphrey 's pattern of disturbing behavior is not repeated, Blanchard needs to draw a clear line, for his staff and for the public, against such conduct.

This isn 't a sensational TV crime show Humphrey is a part of. It 's a real-life court that expects prosecutors to carry out smart and efficient justice.

How can Blanchard argue that his office needs more resources from the state -- which is probably true -- when Humphrey is aggressively pursuing small crimes with sledgehammer vengeance?

Perhaps the most telling comments in the newspaper series came from a Wisconsin Supreme Court-appointed referee who recommended Humphrey receive nothing less than a public reprimand for the one case under formal review.

"The legal system depends upon the officers of the court speaking to the court with complete candor, " the referee said. During a disciplinary hearing, Humphrey repeatedly failed to even acknowledge the accuracy of a transcript of his prior words, the referee said.

"That failure suggested to me a deliberate attempt not to cooperate in an effort to find the truth, " the court referee said. "It must be noted that absolutely no contrition was expressed by the respondent. "

It 's time for Humphrey, if he wants to try to restore his reputation -- much less keep his job -- to admit his mistakes. It 's also time for Blanchard to reassure the public that violations of trust won 't be tolerated.

Prosecutors in Dane County and across Wisconsin must play by the rules if they expect the rest of society to.

Tactics go too far
Here is a sampling of the troubling incidents involving Assistant District Attorney Paul Humphrey:
  • Humphrey let the wrong man sit in jail for a month -- even after he was notified several times of the mistake.
  • Not only was that terribly unfair to the young man -- who, by the way, did not have a criminal record -- but it also was a waste of public money.
  • Humphrey withheld crucial crash-scene photos and made misleading statements about other evidence in pursuit of a vehicular homicide conviction against a Marshall teenager.
The young man was acquitted, and a judge blasted Humphrey for playing "fast and loose, if not recklessly, with the true facts. "
  • Humphrey charged a state wildlife worker with animal abuse after the worker at the Nevin Fish Hatchery in Fitchburg killed a feral cat that bit him and had been harassing the fish. State law allows hatchery managers to kill nuisance predators. The case was eventually dismissed.
  • Humphrey has charged and arrested witnesses for failing to show up for trials that had been canceled, a tactic his boss warned him was "an abuse of your authority."
  • Humphrey aggressively pursued seven felony charges against a bankrupt father who was $2,846 behind in child support for his 17-year-old daughter.
It made a judge wonder aloud about the integrity of the justice system.

The point of prosecution should have been to get the father to pay his $35-a-week payments. Instead, Humphrey seemed bent on making sure the father would never be able to afford another payment again. How, exactly, was that going to help the man 's daughter?

Luckily, a judge stepped in, issuing the father a token fine and scolding Humphrey: "This was a prosecution solely because you could. "


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