Wisconsin State Journal

State Will Probe Paulus' Conduct

The Investigation Will Go Beyond The Charges The Ex-district Attorney Faces In Federal Court.

Thursday, April 15, 2004
Dee J. Hall Wisconsin State Journal

The state Justice Department will investigate alleged misconduct by former Winnebago County District Attorney Joseph Paulus, an Oshkosh newspaper reported Wednesday.

The Oshkosh Northwestern said Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager agreed to a probe that would examine cases beyond the 22 in which Paulus allegedly took bribes in exchange for lenient treatment.

The federal government on Tuesday charged Paulus with using the U.S. mail to promote bribery and filing a false tax form for allegedly taking nearly $50,000 to fix cases between 1998 and 2000 handled by an unnamed defense attorney, who split his fees with Paulus.

Paulus's successor, Bill Lennon, asked for the investigation after receiving allegations that Paulus mishandled dozens of other cases, including some involving "possibly innocent people being in prison." He called the state investigation "wonderful news" that "really puts my mind at ease."

Deputy Attorney General Dan Bach said he's talking with Paulus' attorney, Franklyn Gimbel, about whether the state would join in any deal Paulus reaches with the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, D.C., which is handling the prosecution. However, state officials must be satisfied that the bribery investigation was thorough and the punishment appropriate, he said. Paulus is expected to enter a plea April 26.

The Justice Department already has hired a Madison lawyer to conduct an independent probe into the handling of a 1998 Green Bay murder case by Paulus and former Outagamie County District Attorney Vince Biskupic, an investigation that is expected to be completed in June.

Meanwhile, UW-Madison law professor Walter Dickey called for an "autopsy" of wrongdoing by Paulus to determine whether prosecutors in Wisconsin wield too much unchecked power. He said one model is the legislative task force examining the wrongful conviction of Steven Avery, a Two Rivers man who spent 18 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit.

"I think these cases, like Avery and the Paulus stuff, they need autopsies, so to speak. They need to be turned over and examined ... to determine what went wrong," Dickey said.

Responded Bach: "I don't disagree with professor Dickey that a full autopsy needs to be done. The question is, how much of an autopsy has already been done?"

A former assistant district attorney who was fired in 2002 by Paulus after he blew the whistle on the alleged bribes-for-leniency deals said he's not sure what lessons could be gleaned from examining the actions of his former boss. Menasha lawyer Ed Jelinski said Paulus was a unique character who used the immense power of his office to intimidate those who questioned him.

Jelinski cited the case of former Winnebago County victim/witness coordinator Sheila Berry, whom Paulus fired in 1990 after she revealed that Paulus concealed key evidence in the widely publicized "multiple-personality" rape case. The man's conviction was reversed days after that information was made public.

"(Paulus) made a point throughout his career of viciously attacking anybody who crossed him," Jelinksi said. "The County Board was scared of him. The police departments were scared of him. Assistant district attorneys were scared of him. To some extent, the judges were afraid of him."

Waring Fincke, president of the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said few prosecutors abuse their authority. However, he said it would be wise for police and prosecutors to recognize that the war-like mindset that Paulus had isn't healthy for the criminal-justice system.

"You've got to stop looking at the enforcement of criminal laws as a war," Fincke said, adding the prosecutor's job is to "have an objective search for the truth."

Police/Prosecutor Misconduct
Truth in Justice