Posted Sept. 04, 2002
Jelinski said 90 percent of his trial cases end with guilty or no contest pleas
By Alex Hummel
“A vote for E.J. is a vote for change … and not Joseph Paulus.”
If campaign slogans were still the norm, that might be E.J. Jelinski’s. There’s a big question out there. Does he want to be Winnebago County’s district attorney more than he wants Joe Paulus out of the office?
“Experience in the courtroom isn’t the only factor,” he said last week. “There’s integrity. There’s organization skills.”
Jelinski is 29. He’s a year and four months out of law school at Marquette. He’s a former D.C. legislative intern in Rep. Tom Petri’s office. He’s a summer camp counselor for the Boys and Girls Brigade. He’s single. No kids. He said he had a 90 percent conviction rate while a Winnebago County prosecutor. He’s the son of a retired Neenah artist and a retired Neenah school teacher.
And since April 9, E.J., as he is known to his colleagues and friends, has been the key player in a race some people call one of the ugliest in local, if not state, history.
“I fully believe Joe (Paulus) will be indicted. I fully believe Joe will be disbarred,” Jelinski said last week, adding there is not a doubt in his mind.
Jelinski has bet his prosecutorial career in Winnebago County that his former boss Paulus – a man who became district attorney when Jelinski was too young to drive a car -- did wrong.
Whether the FBI and possibly federal prosecutors agree has yet to be made public, if it has been determined at all.
“If he is not indicted by some point next year, I’ll eat my hat,” Jelinski said.
Since his May firing, he’s been hammering away on the campaign trail. He leads his Republican opponents -- Paulus and William Lennon, an assistant district attorney in Waupaca County – in campaign spending by shelling out about $4,500.
That aside, Jelinski has been criticized by some as unworthy for the district attorney office because of a lack of experience. He said he has between 12 and 25 trial cases to his prosecutorial credit in Winnebago County, with 90 percent ending in guilty or no contest pleas.
Lennon said he doesn’t keep score, pursuing “justice 100 percent of the time.”
Paulus said his 125 court trials, including 30 homicide cases and seven child murders, reach a 95 percent conviction rate.
But Jelinski notes that Paulus was younger and had about just as much time in as an assistant prosecutor when Paulus won the district attorney job 13 years ago.
Jelinski said he began as an intern under Paulus in June 1999 while attending Marquette Law School. He said that by December 1999, he had amassed enough credits at Marquette and clout under Paulus’ wing to do the work of an assistant district attorney – albeit a supervised one.
If elected on November, he will have nearly three years experience in Paulus’ office.
Paulus said he was hired as an assistant district attorney on Feb. 26, 1986. He was elected in November 1988 – giving him nearly three years experience as a prosecutor.
When you ask him why he should be district attorney, it likely boils down to “because Joe Paulus shouldn’t.”
“The prosecution of crime has become secondary to the Joe show,” Jelinski said. “And Joe likes it that way. He very much enjoys… control.”
He, Paulus and Lennon go head to head to head in a Sept. 10 primary. The winner will face Democrat and Winnebago County Assistant District Attorney Brad Priebe on Nov. 5.
Since announcing his election bid in April, much to the surprise of his former boss who once referred to him as “the future” of the office, Jelinski has put all his faith in an end result he believes is inevitable. He said an FBI investigation of cases he alleges resulted in reduced or dismissed charges due to possible bribery will result in Paulus’ federal indictment – win or lose.
“I started this race because I really felt that the DA was engaging in corruption and abuse of office, and I also felt that so many people were being brainwashed by it over the years that they weren’t doing anything about it,” Jelinski said.
He said he is no less confident than he was in May that something was awry in Paulus’ office. He said he alerted the FBI earlier this year to cases where, despite potentially damning evidence, defendants employing specific defense attorneys managed to win reduced charges or dismissed cases.
Paulus said the cases had “proof problems” that good defense attorneys capitalized on and are being warped to look clandestine.
Jelinski said justice was ignored, for whatever reason.
“I guess I’m the guy who said, ‘You know what, I’m not going to let him (Paulus) do that any more,’” he said.
Trusting after taping
Jelinski said his secret taping of Paulus from February to April was the only way he could show Paulus in the district attorney’s true character, praising Jelinski and former Assistant District Attorney Thomas Chalchoff prior to their May firings.
“People can say what they want about what I did with the taping, but I have established during this campaign that Paulus has engaged in a series of lies,” Jelinski said. “The only way you can have good government is if people can have the truth.”
The 49-minute tape, which includes Paulus’ bragging to Jelinski and Chalchoff during a February car trip of an in-office sexual encounter he had during work hours, was condensed down from more than three hours.
The taping and the editing have raised questions among some as to whether Jelinski would be a trustworthy district attorney.
But Jelinski said he did what he had to do and released the office sex comments only because he said they reveal Paulus’ attitude toward the sanctity of the office.
Of the sections of the tapes that were released, “the people of the county had a right to know,” Jelinski said.
Paulus apologized for his graphic comments, but he dismissed them as untrue “boy talk” tales he made while trying to impress two younger subordinates.
Jelinski said he’s not the only one who has condemned the comments.
The state Democratic Party has criticized them, too -- specifically calling on longtime Paulus ally and state Attorney General Candidate Vince Biskupic to chastise the man he used to work for and has received campaign money from.
“They (state Democrats) are not going to do that unless they know the limb isn’t going to fall from beneath them,” Jelinski said.
He thinks he is also propped up by a strong voter base, largely drawn at the county’s political Mason-Dixon line: The Breezewood-Bell interchange with Highway 41.
Jelinski said he is confident his Neenah roots will win him the cities of Neenah and Menasha on Sept. 10 while Lennon will take Oshkosh.
That leaves Paulus, in Jelinski’s opinion, searching for votes.
As for his ticket-fixing allegations, Jelinski isn’t wavering. He argues he was in the right as was his political and financial supporter Menasha Police Department Officer Ann Gollner in forwarding information to the FBI they believed was evidence of possible bribery.
“I’m not going to go to the FBI and give them documentation that I believe is false,” he said.
He said he takes his pursuit of the district attorney office seriously but added, should he lose, he has at least exposed what he considers a lack of ethics, wrongdoing and lies within the inner workings of Paulus’ regime.
“Even if I’m not (elected), I’ve prevented him from doing that anymore.”
Alex Hummel: (920) 426-6669