May 15, 2002
DA misconduct, file tampering rumored for weeks around
BY ALEX HUMMEL
As whispered allegations of misconduct in the Winnebago County district attorneys office swirled in the county courthouse before publicly erupting, another persistent rumor also began making the rounds: someone was taking liberties with county court files stored in an off-site records warehouse.
Clerk of Courts Diane Fremgen confirmed Tuesday it was those rumors of file "tampering" at a county court records storage warehouse north of Oshkosh that prompted her to ask the county executive to eliminate key access to the building and rely solely swipe card access only so "the county could keep tabs on those who accessed the facility."
County Executive Jane Van De Hey said Tuesday the building ÐÐ a metal warehouse -- went to card-swipe only on Mar. 29, 11 days before Edmund Jelinski made his April 9 announcement that he would challenge District Attorney Joseph F. Paulus.
During that initial announcement, Jelinski made his first allegations of "corruption and abuse of power" inside the district attorney’s office, though he declined to provide any proof for his allegations.
The allegations stem from unearthed drunken driving cases in which charges or sentences were reduced or amended, possibly in exchange for money or political favors, Jelinski said.
The matter could be under review by both the FBI and the state’s Officer of Lawyer Regulation ÐÐ a lawyer disciplinary arm of the state Supreme Court.
On Tuesday, District Attorney Joseph Paulus fired Jelinski and fellow Assistant District Attorney Thomas Chalchoff, his campaign manager.
Jelinski said an FBI investigation is investigating bribery the allegations.
He said he was not sure whether concerns over file tampering at the records storage facility were directly related to the ongoing FBI investigation, which still has not been officially confirmed by the FBI.
Winnebago County Circuit Court Judge Robert Haase confirmed Tuesday that he has been interviewed by a "law enforcement agency" regarding the allegations, but he declined to say which one.
Broadcast media reported Judge Barbara Hart Key was also interviewed. When contacted by The Northwestern, Key said she "wouldn’t comment on that."
On Saturday, Key told The Northwestern she forwarded a 1999 drunken driving case involving Oshkosh resident Connie Christensen to the state’s Office of Lawyer Regulation two weeks ago, concerned about "potential unethical conduct" brought to her attention by an unnamed source.
The unsubstantiated reports of file tampering surfaced at about the same time last week as the allegations regarding the drunken driving cases that resulted in reduced or amended charges or sentences after defendants made additional cash payments.
Since then, Menasha Police Officer Ann Gollner, who was dismissed from
a district attorney domestic abuse investigator job in February by Paulus,
said she forwarded several such Winnebago County cases to the FBI for investigation.
"When rumors of file tampering arose, I immediately discussed my concerns with the County Executive and indicated that if the key access were removed, the county could keep tabs on those who accessed the facility," Fremgen stated. "That change was subsequently made."
Jelinski said Tuesday there are "major concerns" over who is accessing the records but added the district attorneys office and the storage building "may" be connected by the investigation. He said the county, in general, has taken seriously its duty to protect records.
Van De Hey said she took Fremgen’s advice, that of other county department
heads who oversee important documents and, she said, the advice of an unnamed
Oshkosh Police Department detective who contacted her by phone.
"I would respectfully suggest that given the information in the last days that it was prudent to lock those doors," Van De Hey said. "I would hope that tampering didn’t occur, but that’s up to the investigation to find out."
OPD Detective Harold Graves, supervisor for all OPD detectives, said his department isn’t involved in any investigation, nor had he any knowledge of one of his detectives contacting the county executive.
"It’s the first I heard about it," Graves said, when contacted by a reporter.
An OPD officer said Tuesday that as of Jan. 1 this year there had been no police calls to investigate break-ins or tampering at the records storage facility.
Van De Hey said district attorneys office employees told her they lost their swipe card but failed to report it. She said, first and foremost, she was concerned about the integrity of records within the storage facility.
"It sounded like they (the district attorneys office) only had one (swipe card)," she said.
A subsequent review of the swipe card access records from a "snapshot" time period between mid-March and mid-April showed the district attorney’s office had never accessed the building via swipe card, Van De Hey said.
Her office was unable to provide a copy of that access report to The Northwestern by deadline Tuesday.
Fremgen explained that several county departments store older documents in the storage facility, off Butler Avenue north of Oshkosh, including her office, "finance, juvenile intake, the district attorney, Sunnyview (Expo Center) and the Register of Deeds."
She specifically pointed out the district attorneys office maintains separate case files from public circuit court case records.
"These files may include personal notes or correspondence with witnesses, attorneys and victims that have not or are not filed with the court."
Alex Hummel: (920) 426-6669 or firstname.lastname@example.org.