State Will Probe Paulus' Conduct
The Investigation Will Go Beyond The Charges The
Ex-district Attorney Faces In Federal Court.
Thursday, April 15, 2004
The state Justice Department will investigate
alleged misconduct by
former Winnebago County District Attorney Joseph Paulus, an Oshkosh
newspaper reported Wednesday.
Dee J. Hall Wisconsin State Journal
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
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
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."
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
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
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,"
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
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.
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
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
"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."