Wisconsin State Journal

Former district attorney Paulus charged
10:41 PM 4/13/04
Dee J. Hall Wisconsin State Journal

Former Winnebago County District Attorney Joseph Paulus was charged Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Green Bay with taking "approximately 22" bribes totaling $48,050 from a local attorney in exchange for favorable treatment of the attorney's clients.

Paulus, 44, also was charged with filing a false tax form in 1999. According to the five-page federal criminal information, Paulus and the attorney agreed to split the attorney's fees in exchange for lenient treatment for clients in 16 drunken driving cases and six criminal cases.

Paulus' successor, fellow Republican Bill Lennon, said he was "extremely disappointed" the federal case focused on bribery, which he said was the "tip of the iceberg" when it came to Paulus's 14 years as district attorney from 1988 to 2002.

On Tuesday, Lennon called for a state investigation into dozens of other allegations received by his office that Paulus lied to police, judges, victims and other attorneys in his zeal to win cases and generate headlines.

"People have repeatedly indicated that ... Joe Paulus wasn't truthful to them or with his presentations to the court or with his dealings with the police or with defense attorneys," Lennon said.

Winnebago County Assistant District Attorney Mike Balskus, who has been investigating some of those allegations, said Paulus has "put a dark cloud over all prosecutors in Wisconsin (and) across the nation."

Deputy Attorney General Dan Bach said Tuesday his office will discuss the possibility of such an investigation with Lennon but made no commitment. However, he hinted that Paulus could face additional state charges stemming from the alleged bribes.

"Our immediate concern ... is whether or not these charges and potential penalties hold (Paulus) to account appropriately for his conduct," Bach said.

The charge of using the U.S. mail to promote bribery carries a maximum five-year prison term. The tax evasion charge carries a maximum three-year sentence.

Paulus' attorney, Franklyn Gimbel of Milwaukee, declined to discuss any agreements Paulus may have reached with the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, D.C., which is handling the case. Gimbel added that Paulus has been cooperating with the investigation.

Gimbel said he doesn't anticipate any others being charged.

In exchange for the fees, Paulus helped the clients by "dismissing cases, reducing charges, returning seized property and requesting that another county's district attorney give lenient treatment to one of Attorney's clients," the government alleges.

The criminal information filed Tuesday doesn't name any of the defendants who allegedly got preferential treatment. It provides details on just one 1999 case, in which Paulus allegedly gave false information to a district attorney in another county to lower a drug charge for the attorney's client.

According to the information, Paulus sent a letter to the district attorney falsely claiming that the attorney's client was a drug informant for Winnebago County. Paulus allegedly pocketed half of the attorney's $2,500 fee for writing that letter on behalf of the client, a repeat drug offender.

Paulus was on a short list to become the U.S. attorney for the Eastern or Western districts of Wisconsin in 2001 when rumors of his money-for-leniency deals made their way to Wisconsin's congressional delegation.

The charges follow a nearly two-year investigation by the FBI and IRS, sparked when Connie Christensen of Oshkosh reported that her third drunken-driving charge was reduced to reckless driving after she gave her attorney, Milton Schierland, $5,000 in cash.

Schierland, of Oshkosh, was a law school classmate of Paulus, and he also worked for a time as an assistant district attorney under Paulus. Messages left at Schierland's office and with his attorney, Stephen Glynn of Milwaukee, weren't returned Tuesday.

In a sworn statement, Christensen said, "(Schierland) said he talked to some people that owed him favors and that he was 98 percent sure he could get me off because he could pull some strings. He told me for $5,000 he could get me off of this. He said there would be no jail time or assessment, or anything on my record."

Christensen said she saw Paulus give Schierland her case file at the Winnebago County Courthouse. When Christensen's case was called, one of Paulus' assistants asked Judge Barbara Key to dismiss the case, saying the file was missing, the statement said.

Court records show Christensen was convicted in that 1999 case of reckless driving and paid a fine.

Gimbel said Paulus, who recently resigned from the firm of Milwaukee attorney Gerald Boyle, is "anxious and concerned for his family's well-being."

But Lennon feels no sympathy for his predecessor. He said Paulus's abuse of his powerful position has left residents of Winnebago County "cynical and disappointed."

Said Lennon: "If you can't believe the district attorney, who can you believe? It's an incredibly tragic situation - not for Joe Paulus. For the rest of us."

Click HERE to read DA Lennon's letter to Wis. Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager

Click HERE to read the official federal charging document (in pdf format).

Police/Prosecutor Misconduct
Truth in Justice