The Northwestern

Sat 11-May-2002

JUDGE REFERS DA CASE FOR REVIEW 
 

BY JIM COLLAR AND ALEX HUMMEL

OF THE NORTHWESTERN 

A Winnebago County judge said Friday she asked a state panel to review a drunken driving case that is part of broader allegations of ethical misconduct by the Winnebago County District Attorney’s Office.

District Attorney Joseph F. Paulus discounted broadcast reports Friday of an FBI investigation of his office as an election-season smear campaign on the part of a political opponent and a Menasha Police Department officer.

The reports involve allegations of cash payments made in drunken driving cases where defense attorneys funneled payments to the district attorney’s office in return for dropping cases or reducing charges. 

Circuit Court Judge Barbara Hart Key told The Northwestern she referred a 1999 drunken driving case she presided over to the state’s Office of Lawyer Regulation "a few weeks ago".

Local television and radio outlets used unnamed sources in reporting that an FBI investigation is under way. A receptionist at the FBI’s Milwaukee field office said no one was available to speak with the press Friday. 

Key said there is "potential unethical conduct" involved, based on the information given her. 

Key said she had not been interviewed by the FBI nor had knowledge of an FBI investigation against the district attorney.

"I have been made aware of allegations," Key said. "I can say that the referrals have been made to the appropriate authority."

Key said she thought the evidence was compelling enough for her to refer the case for review. 

"Is there absolute proof? No," Key said. "Is it enough that it had to be investigated? I definitely felt it had to be investigated."

Key would not disclose who gave her the evidence. The Office of Lawyer Regulation is the disciplinary wing of the Wisconsin 

Supreme Court. It investigates claims of lawyer wrongdoing and makes disciplinary recommendations to the high court.

"On whose suggestion or behalf did she do this, out of the blue, three years after it happened?" Paulus said.

Paulus said he has not taken any bribes. He said the allegations are politically motivated and stem from the 2001 transfer of Ann Gollner, who returned to the Menasha Police Department after a three-year stint in the DAs office as a domestic abuse investigator

"This is political mudslinging in its ugliest form," Paulus said, adding he has considered legal action in response to the allegations.

Paulus said he has not yet decided whether he will run for another term as district attorney, a position he’s held since 1989. Two attorneys working in Paulus’ office, Brad Priebe and Edmund Jelinski, have declared their intentions to seek the district attorney position. 

Paulus said after Gollner was transferred from the domestic abuse unit, she sought out Jelinski – who worked with her as a part-time domestic abuse prosecutor – to run against Paulus and oust him from office as retribution for her transfer.

Paulus said he believes Jelinski secretly recorded their private conversations -- some that might include embarrassing comments, but none of which implicates Paulus in any crimes. 

Jelinksi, 29, an assistant district attorney since June 2001, offered to speak about the allegations with The Northwestern off the record Friday. The Northwestern declined to take off-the-record information. Jelinski said his information on the case is, "Unequivocally, not political."

Jelinski declined to comment on Paulus’ contention that he was secretly tape recorded. "I think the use of a tape recorder in that way is political mudslinging, and I won’t participate in it," he said.

Jelinski also said he was not "recruited" to be a political candidate.

"The decision to run against Mr. Paulus was mine," he said. 

A receptionist at the Menasha Police Department said Gollner was on patrol during attempts to contact her Friday night.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice is not investigating any misconduct allegations against Paulus, said department spokesman Randy Romanski.

However, Paulus said there could be an ongoing FBI investigation without his knowledge. 

"Sure, it’s possible," he said. "It’s very possible."

Paulus said he has not heard from anyone at the FBI and learned of reports of an investigation from the media. 

Two 1999 cases in question resulted in amended charges against an Oshkosh woman and a Ripon man. Paulus said in the Ripon case prosecutors amended the charges from drunken driving to negligent use of an automobile, which he says resulted in stiffer penalties and probation against the man.

He said there is some turbulence in the district attorney’s office though it will not affect the operations and prosecution of criminals.

"Our office is not only functioning, but it’s functioning at a high level and will continue at a high level until these issues are resolved," Paulus said. 

Jim Collar: (920) 426-6676 or jcollar@smgpo.gannett.com Alex Hummel: 426-6669 or ahummel@smgpo.gannett.com.
 

John Maloney
Police/Prosecutor Misconduct