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
"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,"
Jim Collar: (920) 426-6676 or email@example.com Alex Hummel:
426-6669 or firstname.lastname@example.org.