Posted Aug. 11, 2002
probe sets Paulus critics abuzz
Controversies Joseph Paulus dismisses as “locker room” bragging and the fruits of a politically motivated, unfounded FBI investigation are creating ripples far from the Winnebago County district attorney’s office.
Secretly tape-recorded boasts of an in-office sexual encounter by Paulus found their way last week into the state’s attorney general race in which his former boss, Democrat Peg Lautenschlager, is a candidate.
Meanwhile, FBI scrutiny of alleged bribery-influenced criminal charge reductions under Paulus’ watch have likewise stirred supporters of John Maloney -- a Green Bay police detective whose family members say Paulus wrongly convicted of murder in 1999.
Maloney’s family and another supporter who was fired from Paulus’ office say the new allegations of favoritism for select defense attorneys who won their clients more lenient or dismissed charges are merely a pattern of Paulus’s conduct.
Paulus decried his critics Friday as political enemies “making hay” of local intrigue.
“It’s all convicted murderers and people I fired,” he said Friday.
Attorney general race
Last week, the sex-talk tape reached the state’s attorney general’s race when Lautenschlager, who bowed out of the 1988 county district attorney race against Paulus, chastised him as “reprehensible and unfitting of a public servant,” calling for the man she first made a prosecutor in 1986 to step down.
“From my perspective as a prosecutor, I think that showing an absence of integrity hinders him in the process of being district attorney for Winnebago County,” Lautenschlager said.
The tapes were made in secret by district attorney candidate and former assistant district attorney Edmund Jelinski in February. He was fired in May. In the tapes, Paulus graphically describes to Jelinski and former assistant district attorney Thomas Chalchoff having sexual intercourse with a woman during work hours in his former Oshkosh Public Safety Building office.
Paulus apologized for the comments but dismissed them as “locker room talk” to impress his subordinates. He said the sexual encounter never happened, nor had he ever had any sex with any woman in his office.
In blasting his comments, Lautenschlager criticizes the man she hired in 1986. Lautenschlager didn’t run in the 1988 district attorney race and instead sought state office.
“He had a young family and was very diligent in expressing interest and in coming to the office,” Lautenschlager said, recalling her hiring of Paulus. “I guess I appreciated somebody from the community who expresses such interest.”
Now, Lautenschlager calls upon her attorney general’s race opponent, Republican Outagamie County District Attorney Vince Biskupic, to “condemn Mr. Paulus’ appalling behavior.”
“What’s at stake here is the credibility of prosecutors in this state,” she said.
In her statement, she alludes to Paulus’ and Biskupic’s close ties, namely as financial campaign supporters of each other. Paulus hired Biskupic as an assistant district attorney and promoted him to deputy district attorney in the early 1990s before Biskupic ran for and won Outagamie County’s district attorney post.
Lautenschlager said she doesn’t know if Biskupic will respond to her statement.
“I will be sending him a letter seeing if he may be interested in responding,” she said. “We’ve both weighed in on the caucus scandal. We’ve both weighed in on other governmental issues.”
Paulus said: “It’s just a cheap and political ploy by Mrs. Lautenschlager,”
Maloney and a U.S. attorney job
One former Paulus staffer argues current scrutiny of Paulus’ office echoes her concerns with his discretion in the Maloney case.
The FBI investigation of Paulus, confirmed by an agent in Milwaukee last week, has caught the attention of Maloney’s sons, who claim their dad’s innocence. They monitor local media reports closely on their Web site, www.johnmaloney.org.
But Shelia Berry, Paulus’ former victim witness coordinator and cousin of his ex-wife, said it’s Maloney’s appeal that raised serious questions with her – serious enough to prompt her to send her findings to Wisconsin’s two U.S. senators last fall.
Both were considering Paulus for a vacant U.S. attorney job in Wisconsin’s eastern district.
Berry said her findings held some sway in the decision by U.S. Sens. Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold to strike Paulus from a list of presidential appointees for the post.
Berry also heads a Virginia-based organization re-examining convicted murderers’ cases called Truth in Justice. She said she amassed evidence of Paulus’ attempt to stymie Maloney’s appeal by asking another murder convict, Mark Price, to transfer prisons and tape record incriminating comments from Maloney behind bars.
Paulus called the notion ridiculous Friday and said Berry, fired in the early 1990s in a spat with Paulus over a rape case, has “an axe to grind.”
Berry points to two letters she obtained from Price, in which Price – whom Paulus convicted for murder and other charges in the early 1990s – alludes to a proposal from Paulus.
Berry said she took the letters to staff for Kohl and Feingold. She said she was told if the evidence she compiled was compelling, the senators would block Paulus’ appointment.
“They said if I gave them evidence that he (Paulus) had made an unlawful offer (to Price) … that he was finished,” Berry said.
Kohl “blue slipped” Paulus last fall, a seldom-wielded Congressional tool that ended Paulus’ hopes for the U.S. attorney job.
Price’s attorney, John Wallace, declined to discuss his client when contacted by The Northwestern.
Representatives from Kohl’s and Feingold’s offices told The Northwestern that Berry had contacted them, but her concerns were among many factors that ultimately led to Paulus being taken off the U.S. attorney list.
“What I can tell you about Ms. Berry is she did contact us along with many other interested parties who contacted our office about the Paulus nomination,” said Zack Goldberg, a Kohl office staff member.
“And as far as the decision that was made, the staff and Sen. Kohl took in a lot of factors. As an office policy, we just don’t disclose our internal decision making.”
Feingold’s press secretary echoed Goldberg’s comments, saying Paulus was one of “quite a number of nominees.”
Paulus said both Berry and Lautenschlager are playing politics at a time when they think he is vulnerable.
“It’s political payback time,” Paulus said.
Alex Hummel: (920) 426-6669 or firstname.lastname@example.org