|In Winnebago County, Wisconsin
The Legacy of Joe Paulus Lives On
For a dozen years, Winnebago County District Attorney Joe Paulus ran his office with an iron fist -- and an outstretched hand. Paulus pounded on defendants in high profile cases. presenting himself as the great crime fighter, while he took bribes to fix cases on the sly. Joe did not operate in a vacuum. Over the years, he got his hooks into cops, lawyers, judges, elected officials, fellow prosecutors and other citizens. When the occasional brave soul stood up to him, refused to play the game or even attempted to expose the corruption, Paulus responded with his "3-D" treatment -- Deny, Deflect, Defame. The "Defame" part of the formula ran the gamut, from press conferences in which he made false allegations that were never actually retracted, but left to hang over the head of the target; to putting the target in the unemployment line and ensuring he or she remained there; to full-blown felony prosecution on trumped up charges. Joe got mad and he got even. In 1996, for example, Joe got mad when the Clerk of Circuit Court, Julie Pagel, told her deputies they could not hide court files from the press at Joe's direction. He got even at a press conference just before the primary election, claiming that charges against Pagel for mismanaging child support funds were imminent. She was cleared on election day, but Pagel lost by 49 votes. Joe's former girlfriend, Diane Fremgen, was elected.
In 2004, Joe was busted by the feds for taking bribes to fix 22 cases. He got 58 months in prison, and may face additional state charges as well. But those in his inner circle learned the iron-fisted "3-D" response well. That became abundantly clear in 2006, when an anonymous individual calling himself "Mr. Imperfect" posted remarks about Clerk of Circuit Court Fremgen, her prior relationship with Paulus, and the radio ads she recorded supporting the re-election of Paulus' former deputy, Judge Thomas Gritton, at an Oshkosh-based message board, FullofBologna.com.
The Clerk's husband, local attorney Mark Fremgen, lost no time seeking criminal charges against "Mr. Imperfect," based on an interpretation of the post that was significantly more lewd than the post itself.
(Click the excerpt to read the entire e-mail and response in .pdf format.)
In the good old days, when Joe Paulus was in office, "Mr. Imperfect" would have been hunted down and prosecuted. When the Fremgens were unable to bring the force of criminal prosecution to bear on "Mr. Imperfect," they filed a lawsuit to shut down the website where "Mr. Imperfect" posted his comments. Of course, this meant that Diane Fremgen had to restate, in a document that is public record, exactly what "Mr. Imperfect" said that she found so offensive.
(Click either quote to read the entire Complaint in .pdf format.)
Because of both Fremgens' positions in Winnebago County, the complaint was referred to Judge Robert Wirtz in neighboring Fond du Lac County. With no notice to Dennis Payne, the owner and operator of Fullofbologna.com, Judge Wirtz signed an Order shutting down Payne's business and barring him from operating any other websites. Fremgen used one of Joe's favorite sledge hammers -- cut off the target's ability to earn a living and bring him to his knees.
(Click the excerpt to read the entire Order in .pdf format.)
When Fremgen shut down free speech in Winnebago County, the local newspaper front-paged the skeletons in Payne's closet. Then, when he settled with Fremgen a few days later, agreeing to turn over "Mr. Imperfect's" IP address and to remove any posts at Fullofbologna.com that mentioned Fremgen by name, the newspaper criticized Payne for caving in. The editor has apparently never had his ability to make a living knocked out from under him.
The purpose of hitting Payne with an iron fist appears to have been to stop discourse prior to the April 4, 2006 judicial election. It worked, and Fremgen's candidate, Judge Thomas Gritton, was re-elected to another 6-year term. But this is an election year for Fremgen as well. Voters in Winnebago County need to know exactly what they are getting. Potential candidates need to be encouraged to run, and to demonstrate that the Fox River Valley can do better than it has done for the past 16 years.
You get the government you demand -- or the government you settle for.
||Truth in Justice