Posted Aug. 01, 2002
Despite vowing not to use them in his campaign, Winnebago County District Attorney candidate Edmund Jelinski on Wednesday released edited audio recordings he made of conversations between himself, former assistant district attorney Thomas Chalchoff and District Attorney Joseph Paulus.
The tapes contain portions of three recorded conversations between February and April and range from Paulus bragging about sexual encounters in his office to his praise of the two men he would ultimately fire after they announced Jelinski’s bid to unseat him.
Jelinski said Paulus’ criticism of the recordings — made without his knowledge — forced him to release them, contrary to his May pledge not to use them in the campaign. He originally said the tapes would only be used as job protection, to show that his and Chalchoff’s May 14 firings were politically motivated and not based on poor performance.
“It was never my intention to use the tapes as part of a political campaign,” Jelinski said reading a statement on the county courthouse steps. “And while I still do not intend to use the bulk of those tapes in this campaign, there are some portions that I believe the public has a right to hear.”
The tapes, Jelinski said, were recorded on a hidden micro-cassette recorder he purchased.
In contrast to Paulus’ praise, one segment – a set of phone calls on April 8 between Paulus and Chalchoff – shows Paulus grilling Chalchoff to learn more about rumors of Jelinski’s campaign announcement planned for the next day.
“I’m willing to extend the amnesty to (Jelinski) one time … if he’s contemplating doing the bad thing,” Paulus said, as Chalchoff, Jelinski’s campaign manager, denied any knowledge of a campaign.
Paulus apologized for his comments about the sexual exploits that he said were uttered after Jelinski and Chalchoff asked him about the subject during a February car trip to a retirement party in Milwaukee.
“I never had any sexual relations with women in the office -- period,” Paulus said Wednesday. “This was raunchy boy talk of a bragging nature. I regret it, and I certainly never expected it to be played on the radio. For that I apologize to my wife and my family for them having to hear it. In context, those talked-about exploits were in between my first marriage and my current marriage.”
Paulus said he is not proud of those comments and hopes that “the voters of this county realize that my private conversations are not a part of my public performance in the courtroom.”
The tapes also include Paulus explaining his displeasure for prosecutors too quick to plea bargain, especially in drunken driving cases.
“In traffic cases like drunks, for the most part, you know, in the absence of developments, if it’s over 0.10 you’ve got to stick with it,” Paulus said on the recording of the February car trip.
Jelinski said that comment is in direct conflict with a statement Paulus gave to The Northwestern in a May investigative story. The Northwestern found 12 drunken driving cases with reduced or dismissed charges between 1996 to 2000 in which court documents showed police-administered tests registered blood-alcohol concentrations higher than 0.10, the state’s legal limit.
Paulus told The Northwestern that BAC levels in the reviewed cases, namely two at 0.126 and 0.122, were “relatively low” to guarantee a successful prosecution.
He said Wednesday his original comments to the newspaper were not in conflict with his comments on the tapes.
“There’s no county in the state tougher on drunk driving than us,” Paulus said, adding the cases reviewed by The Northwestern were 12 out of more than 1,300 in the four-year time frame and had legitimate “proof problems.”
Jelinski referred to the FBI earlier this year several cases in which he said select defense attorneys were able to easily win the amended charges -- perhaps in exchange for money, bribes or favors.
“To the best of my knowledge, the FBI and Office of Lawyer Regulation are still investigating these cases,” he said Wednesday.
In several of the drunken driving cases, Milton “Mitch” Schierland served as defense attorney. Paulus hired him as an assistant district attorney in 2000.
Paulus talked favorably on the tapes about Schierland, a law school classmate, and mentioned “Bolly” -- a nickname Jelinski said refers to Richard Bollenbeck, a private attorney in Appleton.
As for his praise of Jelinski and Chalchoff, Paulus said those comments on the tapes were made before he learned of Jelinski’s recordings and “false allegations.”
During the February car trip, Jelinski and Chalchoff ask Paulus how he thinks the assistants are doing.
“I like you guys,” Paulus says on the tape. “Don’t you know just by the fact I’m hanging out with you doing things that I must like you to some extent?”
“That road trip took place back in February,” Paulus said Wednesday. “It was an after-hours party where they asked me the question and I wanted to be nice to them. It was after that evening that I discovered he (Jelinski) was secretly tape recording me and accusing me of criminal acts.”
Jelinski said he edited the tapes to block out names. He said dead spans on the tapes with no conversation during the February car trip, for example, were also cut out.
Jelinski said the tape provided to the media was not doctored in any way to alter the content and context of Paulus’ comments.
Jelinski denied it was mudslinging. Paulus called the tapes’ release just that.
“The only reason he didn’t release these months ago is he is trying to knock me out,” Paulus said. “I may not be proud of what I said on those tapes, but he should be ashamed of himself for secretly tape recording conversations. This is not the kind of person we need in the district attorney’s office.”
Jelinski said the tapes shed light on the kind of relationship district attorney employees have with Paulus and prove that he and Chalchoff were victims of their boss’s wrath.
“This is not a man who had trouble with me because I had problems,” Jelinski said. “This is a man who became enraged when he found out I contacted federal authorities, and everything he has done from that point forward had been retaliation for that.”
Alex Hummel: (920) 426-6669 or firstname.lastname@example.org