Oshkosh Northwestern

Posted Aug. 03, 2004

Paulus gets 58 months
Time will be in federal prison camp

By Jim Collar
of The Northwestern

GREEN BAY— Former Winnebago County District Attorney Joseph Paulus, convicted on felony charges of bribery and filing a false tax return, will spend nearly five years in a federal prison.

Federal District Court Judge William Griesbach gave Paulus a 58-month sentence during a hearing Monday at the Brown County Courthouse. The hearing was delayed by nearly a half-hour, while the case was moved from the federal courtroom to a nearby county courtroom better suited to handle a larger-than-expected gallery.

Paulus pleaded guilty to both charges in April based on evidence that he took 22 bribes totaling $48,050 from defense lawyer and friend Milton “Mitch” Schierland from June 1998 through June 2000. Paulus accepted the money in exchange for lenient treatment, reduced charges and other benefits for Schierland’s clients, according to court documents.

Paulus, when given the opportunity to speak prior to the sentencing Monday, apologized to former colleagues, co-workers and county residents in general.

“You’ll never know how deeply I regret getting involved in this situation, and to all those people I’m very sorry,” Paulus said.

Paulus and his attorney Franklyn Gimbel left the courtroom by a back entrance and were unavailable for comment after the hearing.

Contacted at home later in the day, Gimbel said “there is a high likelihood” that the judge’s decision, which exceeded federal sentencing guidelines, will be appealed.

He and Paulus will not make a decision until they see Griesbach’s written sentencing memorandum, Gimbel said.

Griesbach’s sentence exceeded those argued for by both the defense and prosecutors.

A plea agreement struck earlier this year called for a sentence between 27 and 33 months.

Prosecutors had recommended a 33-month sentence based on the agreement.

Griesbach said the number of bribes accepted by Paulus and the sustained two-year period during which bribes occurred provided cause for a longer sentence.

Paulus’ sentencing was delayed in July after Griesbach filed notice that he was considering a sentence exceeding the sentencing guidelines. Under recommended guidelines, Paulus faced the same sentence for 22 bribes, as he would have for taking money on only two occasions, Griesbach said Monday.

Federal sentencing guidelines took effect in the federal courts in 1987 as a means to close disparities between sentences in various jurisdictions. The numerical formula uses case characteristics such as the seriousness of the crime and a defendant’s criminal history to determine a sentencing range available for judges.

“The most important things in life are not quantifiable, and one of those things is justice,” Griesbach said.

Federal prosecutor Howard Skamberg declined to argue for a specific sentence within Griesbach’s guidelines because Paulus’ plea agreement served as a contract calling for a sentence within the established guidelines.

Gimbel argued that Griesbach had no authority to sentence beyond the guidelines based on court precedent set in the June U.S. Supreme Court decision in Blakely v. Washington. The court in that case ruled that facts supporting an upward departure in federal guidelines must either be admitted by the defendant or proved in front of a jury.

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear two cases based on the aftermath of Blakely to determine whether federal sentencing guidelines are constitutional.

With the Blakely case still the established precedent, Gimbel said Paulus could not be subject to a longer sentence than guidelines allow. He argued a jury would be unable to consider a longer sentence because the plea agreement prevented federal prosecutors from arguing for a longer sentence.

Griesbach contended that a jury wouldn’t be needed.

Paulus’ admission in the plea agreement of accepting $48,050 during the two-year period met the criteria set out in the Blakely case, he said. Griesbach invited Gimbel to appeal the guidelines set at 51 to 53 months. While plea agreements are an important part of the justice system, judges still have the responsibility to render just sentences given the facts of individual cases, he said.

“If I’m here to rubber stamp the agreement of the parties, I’m vastly overpaid,” Griesbach said, drawing laughter from the courtroom gallery.

Those close to the case commended Griesbach for “sending an appropriate message.” Most used the term, “closure,” to describe their feelings as the courtroom emptied.

Members of the gallery included Winnebago County District Attorney William Lennon and Menasha lawyer Edmund “E.J.” Jelinski. Jelinski, an assistant district attorney under Paulus, was fired and recently settled with the state for wrongful termination after bringing allegations of wrongdoing to the public. Ann Gollner, a Menasha police officer who took a statement from a drunken-driving defendant later shown to be a beneficiary of a bribe, also watched Paulus’ sentencing.

Gollner in 2002 spoke to Oshkosh’s Connie Christensen on her own time and delivered bribery allegations to the FBI. She called Paulus “a good actor” in terms of his apology and admitted her closure won’t come until the day he checks into prison.

Lennon said the sentencing and upcoming prison sentence would give the local justice system a better opportunity to rebuild the trust Paulus compromised.

“It brings some closure, and it brings some satisfaction,” he said. “Frankly, it allows us to turn a new page.”

Paulus’ page in the annals of the Winnebago County justice system isn’t completely written.

Federal prosecutors declined comment following sentencing, and no documentation has been released offering details on the cases where bribes occurred. Meanwhile, Schierland’s case remains open, and both still are subject to a state-level investigation into their activities.

Schierland will be sentenced on one tax evasion count Sept. 2. Paulus on Monday was given six weeks to report to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to serve his sentence.

Griesbach, on a request from Gimbel, will recommend that Paulus serve his time at the federal prison camp in Pensacola, Fla., based on the proximity to his family now living in Alabama. The prison bureau holds final authority to decide whether Paulus serves his time at the minimum-security camp or elsewhere.

Paulus also will pay a $5,000 fine. He also will face a three-year period of supervised release once his sentence is complete.

Gimbel argued for the lowest possible sentence under the revised guidelines, contending that Paulus’ life has been much more than 22 instances of an “outrageous lack of judgment.” He discussed letters from family that described Paulus’ youthful nickname, “the purist,” indicating his straight-laced nature as a child. He also argued that a lengthy prison sentence punishes Paulus’ family, who will struggle with loss of income and loss of a husband and father during the term.

Griesbach said Paulus’ family situation makes the crimes more egregious, in one respect, because he knew the potential consequences to his loved ones before he committed the crimes. Paulus’ conduct wrongly contributed to the reputation that the rich and powerful get special treatment in the courtroom.

“The two years reflect conduct that is impossible to ignore or minimize,” Griesbach said.

Jim Collar: (920) 426-6676 or jcollar@thenorthwestern.com.

Police/Prosecutor Misconduct
Truth in Justice