Several Paulus Critics Say He Damaged Them
They Say Methods Included Firing And Leveling Frivolous Allegations Against Them.
Monday, May 10, 2004
Dee J. Hall Wisconsin State Journal
Former district attorney Joseph Paulus stayed in power for nearly a decade and a half by silencing critics with firings, criminal investigations and by leveling damaging but often frivolous allegations against them, former and current officials in the Winnebago County justice system say.
"One of the big questions is 'Why didn't people speak out?'" Winnebago County Assistant District Attorney Mike Balskus said. "What we're finding is some people spoke out ... and as a result they were harmed or damaged, either fired or threatened."
Paulus, 44, pleaded guilty last month to two federal bribery-related charges for taking nearly $50,000 in payments between 1998 and 2000 to fix 22 cases, mostly drunken driving matters. Attorney Milton "Mitch" Schierland, 47, has agreed to plead guilty to tax evasion for failing to report $157,000 in income, including money paid in bribes to Paulus.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice also is investigating allegations that Paulus lied to police, other attorneys and judges and withheld key evidence in order to win cases during his 14 years in office.
Paulus' attorney, Franklyn Gimbel, said his client won't publicly discuss any of the misconduct allegations against him. However, Gimbel said Paulus told him "he never did anything that was, in his view, anything less than vigorously represent the interests of the state of Wisconsin."
Those who worked for and with Paulus at the Winnebago County Courthouse say the former district attorney not only made threats but was skilled at carrying them out. The most recent victims: three whistleblowers who alerted the FBI that Paulus might have been taking kickbacks.
After assistant district attorneys Ed Jelinski and Tom Chalchoff went to the FBI with their suspicions of bribery, Paulus fired them, labeling them incompetent. Paulus also publicly questioned the integrity of Menasha police officer Ann Gollner, whom federal officials thanked last month for bringing them the first evidence in the case.
Chalchoff said the stigma of being fired and labeled incompetent made it impossible for him to find a job as prosecutor. After Jelinski lost his 2002 election bid to unseat Paulus, Jelinski and Chalchoff opened a law office together.
Gollner kept her job but was cited for a minor infraction after Paulus pushed for an internal police investigation against her.
Former Winnebago County Clerk of Courts Julie Pagel believes she came into Paulus' sights after she revealed his role in withholding court documents from the local newspaper. Just before the 1996 Republican primary, Paulus announced an investigation against her for alleged mismanagement.
"The day of the election, I was exonerated," Pagel said with a bitter laugh. "I lost by 49 votes."
Joining the team
Judge William Carver said he believes he got on the former district attorney's bad side in the early 1990s when he refused Paulus' offer to join his "team," a group of Winnebago County officials who worked closely with the district attorney.
"I told him quite clearly I wasn't on anyone's team. I'm a judge," Carver recalled.
Not long after, Carver said he was tipped off that the district attorney's office was offering lenient treatment to witnesses in a gambling investigation if they would say Carver or three other Winnebago County officials participated in the sports betting ring. None of the officials ever was implicated, Carver said.
"What really bothered me was that they were offering what amounted to a deal to these individuals, that if they were to testify that I was involved in this, that they would walk away," Carver said. "(The suspects) repeated over and over that I was not involved in it."
Balskus said his office has asked the Justice Department to investigate a complaint by one of the gambling defendants, Eugene Dadas, that he was treated more harshly in his 1993 case because he refused to implicate Carver. Balskus said the prosecutor's file in that case is missing.
Carver said he believes the investigation was designed not to uncover gambling in Winnebago County but to "get me out of office."
In a small way, it worked.
Paulus filed a complaint with the state Judicial Commission about Carver's timing in recusing himself from one of the gambling cases and for failing to put into the court file a note he had received warning him he was a target of the investigation. Carver said he recused himself at the first court appearance; Paulus charged he should have done it sooner. As for the note, Carver said it wasn't related to the case at hand and therefore didn't belong in the file.
"They got part of what (the district attorney's office) wanted," Carver said. "They didn't get me arrested. They didn't throw me off the bench. But they did get me suspended for 15 days."
Former Winnebago County victim-witness coordinator Sheila Carmichael also said she felt Paulus' wrath in 1990 after she reported Paulus withheld key evidence in a highly publicized "multiple personality" rape case. Carmichael, who remarried and now goes by the name of Berry, said she moved out of state because Paulus' public statements questioning her ethics made it impossible for her to work in the criminal justice system.
"I couldn't get a job in my field. I went from supporting myself and two kids to having to move in with my mother," Berry said. "I was vilified. I might as well have tied a skunk to my back."
Former Winnebago County Coroner Michael Stelter said he, too, was targeted by Paulus after he refused Paulus' request to lie about a 1990 murder case. Stelter said Paulus wanted him to say he had done an extensive examination of a body when, in fact, one was never done.
"He tried to get me to say things I know I didn't do," said Stelter, who now works in the manufactured home business in Tennessee. "Paulus said, Let's get a story that we're going to tell the press.' I said, Let's tell them what happened.'"
Stelter said his refusal to lie resulted in a 20-day jail term in 1992 for failing to report a suspicious death to the district attorney.
"The charges that were drummed up (by Paulus) were just bogus -- bogus," Stelter said. "(Paulus) is a vindictive, bad person who's getting what he deserves."
Contact Dee J. Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-6132.