expect ugly DA race
July 14, 2002
Edmund Jelinski walked out of a half-hour-long public access television program taping Thursday with a sigh.
Another grilling, another chance to explain himself past.
The Winnebago County district attorney candidate, 29, spent a big portion of the show explaining why he alerted the FBI to possible bribery-influenced prosecutions under the watch of his opponent District Attorney Joseph Paulus.
He also faced questions on how he could expect voters to trust him when he acknowledges he secretly taped Paulus with a micro-cassette recorder for job protection after he blew a whistle on him.
There are still about 60 days to go before Jelinski, Paulus and another Republican candidate -- Waupaca County Assistant District Attorney Bill Lennon -- face off in a Sept. 10 primary. Democrat Brad Priebe, and Paulus’ assistant district attorney, awaits the winner.
The candidates said last week the race might not get any prettier. With less than one week of the official campaign stretch behind them, there is already plenty of ugliness in the contest for Winnebago County’s top prosecutor post.
“I don’t think it’s going to get any less hostile than it is right now,” Jelinski said.
Since April, when Jelinski made his campaign announcement, Paulus’ office has been under scrutiny. Jelinski says the FBI is investigating possible pay-for-justice illegalities. Having been in Paulus’ office less than two years, Jelinski said he came across cases where defendants, through select defense attorneys close to Paulus, paid money for easily reduced or dismissed charges.
Jelinski, still a probationary employee, was fired by Paulus in mid-May.
The state Supreme Court’s attorney investigation arm, the Office of Lawyer Regulation, is looking into attorney conduct in at least one case and might also be investigating Jelinski’s conduct after a complaint by Paulus.
Meanwhile, Priebe said he has been interviewed by the FBI, but said the sanctity of the investigation outweighs the public’s right to know the details.
The allegations have set the stage for bitterness, and there’s little to no indication the Office of Lawyer Regulation and FBI probes will be complete when it comes time to cast ballots in September or November.
Jelinski told hosts of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh public access show “Commentary” he isn’t slinging mud.
“I think the voting public is aware there are two separate issues,” he said. “There is mudslinging – that’s bringing a person down for political gain. … and then there is telling the truth about the district attorney’s office.”
Enter Lennon, 44, a prosecutor for 16 years who lost to Paulus in 1994 in another three-way primary.
Lennon has already called for Paulus to resign.
“He can still be in the election,” Lennon said. “He can still seek his vindication. He should just simply resign so the office of district attorney can do its job prosecuting criminals and protecting its people. That’s not a politician talking. That’s what every single mom and pop wants.”
“With all these allegations out there, with all these shenanigans allegedly being pulled, the office itself has lost the trust of the law enforcement community,” Lennon said. “The police are up in arms. A new district attorney is necessary to establish credibility with the judges and court system generally.”
Paulus, 42, a 16-year prosecutor with 13 years in the top office in Winnebago County, maintains there are no shenanigans, there are no illegalities and anything uttered otherwise is an untruth.
He said Lennon’s resignation call was “grandstanding.”
“This guy wants me to resign on a series of wild rumors,” Paulus said.
Then enter Priebe, 34, who also got 30 minutes with “Commentary” on Thursday and a grilling on what he has seen for the last eight years while working for Paulus.
“My campaign is not about Joe Paulus and the other candidates,” Priebe said. “It’s about me and what I can bring into the office. … Those allegations are just that. If they are being investigated, they are being investigated. That’s some other agency’s job.”
Priebe did say he was interviewed by the FBI and said certain attorneys and citizens have “access” to Paulus’ office.
But he did not elaborate, saying he wants his campaign to positively focus on his accomplishments and goals -- such as better communication between the district attorney’s office and law enforcement, more advocacy for crime victims and stronger prosecution of repeat offenders.
He’ll face the Republican primary winner in the Nov. 5 general election.
Jelinski wants more outreach and teamwork between the district attorneys office, police, schools and community groups.
Lennon is mounting his campaign to restore trust and confidence he said has been lost in the district attorney’s office.
“We can’t have a district attorney who has lost his credibility with the judges,” he said. “We can’t have a district attorney that has lost the confidence of the police. The office doesn’t work that way.”
While firing back at his critics, Paulus said last week -- after turning in his necessary nomination signatures at the last minute -- his re-election bid will stand on his experience and record.
“For the past 16 years, I’ve devoted all my energy to fighting criminals, murderers and sexual predators,” he said.
Alex Hummel: (920) 426-6669 or firstname.lastname@example.org