Post-Crescent staff writer
Two college classmates, fresh out of Marquette Law School, have made it their mission to see Joseph Paulus ousted as Winnebago County district attorney.
“We are a couple of guys with nothing to lose,” said Thomas Chalchoff, 31, who along with Edmund Jelinski, 29, were fired by Paulus May 14.
Paulus, who has been district attorney since 1989, is under investigation by the FBI and the state Office of Lawyer Regulation into how some drunken driving cases were handled by his office.
Jelinski, who is running as a Republican for the district attorney’s job with Chalchoff as his campaign manager, said he became a candidate because he did not like the way Paulus was running the office.
“Because I know who the DA is as a human being,” said Jelinski, “and then I hear about these cases out there.”
One of those cases involves Connie Christensen, an Oshkosh woman who claims she paid her attorney Milton Schierland $5,000 in cash to get her third-offense drunken driving charge reduced.
The FBI and OLR investigations were prompted by accusations that Paulus showed favoritism on drunken driving and criminal cases involving Schierland, his law school classmate, who is now an assistant in his office.
Jelinski said he has passed on 12 other cases to the FBI, which he believes fit the same profile as the Christensen case.
Jelinski and Chalchoff, both hired last year as assistant district attorneys, allege Paulus allowed an abusive and patronizing work environmen
“With Tom and I, on Mondays Tom had to buy Paulus lunch and on Fridays I had to buy him lunch,” Jelinski said. “And if we didn’t he would then start making references to June 4. It was so juvenile.” June 4 marked the end of Jelinski’s one-year job probation.
“He would remind us constantly we were on probation and that he could fire us for whatever reason or no reason at,” Chalcoff said.
Paulus declined to be interviewed about the charges raised by Jelinski and Chalchoff.
In May, Paulus said the allegations against him were the result of a disgruntled employee and Jelinski.
“If there is an investigation. I look forward to it,” Paulus said. “It will show nothing improper occurred.”
Jelinski was already working for Paulus when he recommended the district attorney hire Chalchoff, who graduated with Jelinski from law school in 2001.
Because the betting was that Paulus would be getting a U.S. attorney’s post, Jelinski said he wanted Chalchoff to come on board despite the tense work environment.
“After working there for two weeks I wanted to quit,” said Chalchoff, who was hired by Paulus in November under a one-year grant to handle traffic and criminal traffic cases. After two months he was given a more permanent position.
“But,” Chalchoff said, “all along he is telling us we are doing an excellent job. We are his boys. We have a future.”
When Paulus did not get a U.S. attorney’s position, Jelinski and Chalchoff decided to look into rumors of favoritism in how cases involving Schierland were handled.
Jelinski said a going-away party in December for Assistant Dist. Atty. John Daniels, who now works in Outagamie County, heightened tensions in the office. He said Daniels and Paulus were not on speaking terms. Daniels declined to comment on the matter.
“It was never said, nor was there a direct order, but Joe would ask you if you were going to the party and he would give you one of his looks and there was no doubt what he meant,” Jelinski said. “You better not. He didn’t want anybody from that office going to that party, but some did go, and they were harassed for doing so.”
Ann Gollner, a domestic abuse investigator in the district attorney’s office, organized the party.
In February, Paulus had Gollner reassigned back to her old job with the Menasha Police Department.
Last month, Paulus said he reassigned Gollner when she displayed an unwillingness to be supervised. He also said investigators are assigned on a rotating two-year basis. Gollner worked in the office for three.
Jelinski said questions about Paulus’ treatment of Gollner fueled his investigation of Paulus.
“So I began to investigate the rumors and I began to approach people and I came up with the Connie Christensen case,” he said.
Christensen was charged with third-offense drunken driving in August 1999. She hired Schierland to defend her and claimed that she paid Schierland $5,000 to get the case reduced to a traffic citation.
“So I took this case to Ann,” said Jelinski. By this time, Gollner was back on her beat with Menasha.
Gollner, who declined to be interviewed, talked to Christensen at her home March 7, Jelinski said.
“Ann told her she was there, not acting as a police officer. She made it very clear she was there as a private person.
Christensen was very open about it and Gollner asked her if she would write this all down and she did and Christensen read it and signed it and Ann gave it to me” said Jelinski.
Paulus later filed a complaint with the Menasha Police Department alleging Gollner conducted a “secret, unauthorized investigation of (Paulus) outside her jurisdiction while portraying herself as a police officer conducting an official investigation.” That investigation has been handed over to the Green Bay Police Department.
Gollner took the information to the FBI. Daniels confirmed last week that the FBI had questioned him.
The episode also prompted Jelinski and Chalchoff to try and unseat Paulus at the polls.
“We couldn’t find anyone willing to go up against Joe Paulus,” Chalchoff said. So Jelinski decided he would run.
Jelinski announced his candidacy April 9, but he said things got uncomfortable in the office when Paulus got wind of the mini-investigation.
“So Joe filed a grievance against me with the OLR (Office of Lawyer Regulation) for ‘spurious comments to bench and bar that he was taking kickbacks,’” Jelinski said.
“I responded to the OLR and said I never made those allegations. But what he didn’t know at the time was that (Winnebago County Circuit Court judges) Robert Haase and Barbara Hart Key were independently making their own complaint to the OLR.”
Key and Haase have both said they have asked the OLR to review the handling of certain cases by the district attorney’s office.
Jelinski and Chalchoff also started planning for what they considered their eventual dismissal.
"Tom and I, in order to document our relationship with Joe, began taping some of our conversations,” Jelinski said.
The two said they taped conversations with Paulus when the topic was their job performance.
He added there was nothing incriminating about Paulus on the tapes.
After Paulus found out about the taping, Jelinski and Chalchoff were fired.
In addition to Jelinski, others are interested in becoming district attorney. Assistant Dist. Atty. Brad Priebe is running as a Democrat and Deputy Dist. Atty. John Jorgensen is running as a Republican. Waupaca County Assistant Dist. Atty. Bill Lennon said he is studying the possibility of entering the race as a Republican.
Paulus has filed candidacy papers but has not yet announced whether he will pursue re-election.
Dan Wilson can be reached at 920-993-1000, ext. 304, or by e-mail at email@example.com