April 26, 2004

By Jerry Burke

Former Winnebago County district attorney Joe Paulus is now a convicted felon.  He pleaded guilty in court Monday to using the mail to accept bribes, and tax evasion.  Prosecutors said Paulus took $48,000 in bribes in exchange for reduced sentences, during his time as DA, mostly for drunk driving cases in 1998 and 1999.

When Action 2 News first reported the federal investigation in 2002, Paulus vehemently denied he had done anything wrong, and that the investigation would prove him right.

Paulus arrived at the federal court in Green Bay about 10 minutes early, when he said:

"It's a tough day for me and my family, but I'm here to take responsibility and move forward."

Paulus made little eye contact with the many media people who were here to cover his court appearance.  His lips remained pursed as he went through the security check before going into the courtroom.

In the federal courtroom, where cameras are not allowed, Paulus shook hands with the U.S. Attorney who filed the charges against him.  The only time he seemed to get agitated was when federal judge William Griesbach began talking about sentencing.  Then, even though he was sitting, Paulus' legs shook noticeably.

Paulus is facing up to eight years in prison, but his attorney said it will probably be less.  As part of his plea, he must surrender his law license and can never hold public office again.
"The guidelines would suggest something in the range of 33 months," said Franklyn Gimbel. 
Gimbel also issued a statement on Paulus's behalf.

"I understand that I am going to prison.  I understand that I will surrender my right to practice law anywhere in the country. I understand that I will be a convicted felon and carry that stigma for the rest of my life," the statement said.

Several people who blew the whistle on Paulus attended the hearing, including one of Paulus' former assistants.  E.J. Jelinski says he's convinced the federal investigation is just the tip of the iceberg and that what Paulus did illegally didn't just happen during two years.
"I don't believe it is, and I don't believe we know all of the players who are involved," Jelinski says, "but this conspiracy needs to be dugout root and branch and burned so that this never happens again."

Menasha police officer Ann Gollner is the one who blew the whistle on Paulus, after which Paulus tried getting her fired.  Ann and her husband both attended today's hearing. 

"We both needed to hear him say he was guilty," she says, "and it doesn't go any more than that.  It's a part that we need to move on, and I feel we're ready to do that after sitting through the hearing today."

Paulus left the courthouse quickly following today's hearing.  He'll remain free until his July 22nd sentencing.  However, Monday's plea does not prevent the state from also pursuing charges against him.

"I certainly don't intend to duplicate everything that federal authorities have already done," says state assistant attorney general Dan Bach, "and I don't know there's any need to do that, but as I've said, we intend to focus on state offenses that may not have been involved or the focus of the federal investigation."

Police/Prosecutor Misconduct
Truth in Justice