Apr. 01, 2005
Lennon questions Priebe conduct
flags’ in DWI case cause DA to petition state
By Ed Lowe
Post-Crescent staff writer
— Suspicions about a 1998 drunken-driving case dismissed by
former prosecutor Brad Priebe have prompted an appeal for a state
Department of Justice review of the case.
Winnebago County Dist. Atty. Bill Lennon said Thursday he has forwarded
the files associated with the aborted prosecution of William H.
Routhieaux, charged then with drunken driving-fourth offense, to
Lennon said he did so in response to “red flags” that appeared as
prosecutors prepared a new drunken driving case against Routhieaux, 50,
of Appleton. Routhieaux’s 1998 case was dismissed as a result of a
motion by Priebe, then a Winnebago County assistant district attorney.
Priebe, appointed by Gov. Jim Doyle in September to complete the term
of retired Outagamie County Judge James Bayorgeon, faces Appleton
attorney Mark McGinnis in Tuesday’s Branch 1 election.
Priebe told The Post-Crescent,
which anonymously received documents associated with the Routhieaux
case Wednesday, that he is a victim of a smear campaign that attempts
to link him to misconduct by ousted Winnebago County Dist. Atty. Joe
Paulus, Lennon’s predecessor.
Paulus is serving a 58-month prison term for convictions on bribery and
tax evasion charges stemming from his handling of 22 traffic and
criminal cases from 1997-2000.
Lennon said he referred the case for review by state authorities after
learning Priebe said Paulus directed him to file a motion seeking
dismissal of the 1998 charge “with prejudice,” a stipulation that would
have prevented the charges from being reissued.
Court records show Winnebago County Circuit Judge Bruce Schmidt
dismissed the charge, which was filed after a standard filing deadline,
but modified the order so the charge could be refiled later.
“The decision on whether this case would be reissued at all, ever, was
not my decision,” Priebe said. “That’s why the motion was written ‘with
prejudice.’ Judge Schmidt (revised) the motion (to read) ‘without,’
thereby leaving the decision whether or not to reissue the case
squarely where it belonged, with Joe Paulus.
“It’s an unfortunate case, an example of an assistant district attorney
trying to do his job under difficult circumstances,” Priebe said. “I
was fighting to have this case issued and get it issued again and
getting nowhere. … If I hadn’t signed that motion, I would have been
brought up on a charge of insubordination” by Paulus.
A March 24 memo from Winnebago County Circuit Judge Barbara Key, who
presides over the new drunken-driving case against Routhieaux,
indicated she lacked information about how the 1998 case was resolved.
The memo notified the prosecutor of the new case, Winnebago County
Assistant Dist. Atty. Christian Gossett, that the dismissals of the
1998 case are “something that the court will want to address” at
Routhieaux’s April 7 pretrial hearing.
Gossett said Thursday his knowledge of the earlier case will be limited
by an “unusual” circumstance.
“Our files of the case at the DA’s office are missing,” Gossett said.
“I had to get my information from the clerk of courts’ office files.
Any internal documentation from our office would not be in those files,
just simply what was filed with the court. We have nothing from the
original DA’s office files.”
Lennon, who has made no endorsements in pending judicial elections,
said it is possible Priebe would have faced retaliation from Paulus,
had he refused a directive.
“At the same time, if (Priebe) felt compelled to dismiss this case of a
four-time drunken driver because he was ordered to do so, he could have
said something to someone rather than putting this (defendant) back in
a position where he could be right back on the road again,” Lennon said.
Fear of reprisal from Paulus “could be one explanation for why Brad
Priebe would have signed this motion for dismissal with prejudice, but
it is not the only explanation,” Lennon said.
McGinnis said Thursday his campaign did nothing to promote any
allegations of wrongdoing by Priebe and regrets their emergence in the
final days of the campaign.
“I believe that Brad was a good prosecutor and I think he’s running a
good campaign,” McGinnis said.
“I don’t believe that any of this is good for the election process, for
the community, for the citizens of Outagamie County, or for the
judiciary. I believe we have excellent judges here and I believe we
have a community of legal individuals that are just superb. All this
type of thing does is tarnish the reputations of all of us who work
within that community.”
Priebe said the disclosure of the information is part of a “campaign of
sabotage” orchestrated by “a small group of people out there that are
upset that Mark McGinnis did not get the judicial appointment.”
Priebe said the case demonstrates “the struggles I had against Joe
Paulus for years. There are things that happened in that office that I
desperately disagreed with, a whole bunch of unsavory things that I
felt needed to be corrected.
“That’s why I eventually ran against him,” Priebe said. “I think you
can realize what I was up against when I did that, and I’m very, very
proud of that.”
Priebe, who served on Paulus’ staff for eight years, ran as a Democrat
to replace him in 2002. Paulus was eliminated in the Republican primary
by Lennon, a former Waupaca County prosecutor who then defeated Priebe
in the regular election.
Priebe then joined the staff of newly elected Outagamie County Dist.
Atty. Carrie Schneider.
Lennon said the 1998 Routhieaux case is the latest of more than 40
suspect cases his staff has forwarded to state investigators, who are
probing irregularities involving cases prosecuted during Paulus’ tenure.
Routhieaux was charged with a fourth-offense of drunken driving Feb. 23
after being stopped after a minor traffic crash in the Town of Menasha
on Jan. 28.
Routhieaux, free on a $1,000 signature bond after pleading not guilty
to the charge March 15, is scheduled for an April 18 trial before Key.
rules judicial race
April 6, 2005
attorney Mark McGinnis was passed over for an Outagamie County judicial
appointment in September, but won it comfortably by election on April
Priebe, 37, Appleton, lost despite endorsements from a list of
prominent local officials led by Outagamie County Sheriff Brad Gehring
and Priebe’s former employer, Dist. Atty. Carrie Schneider.
afternoon, Schneider held a “Retain Judge Priebe” sign in
front of passing motorists at the corner of Richmond Street and College
Avenue in downtown Appleton.
fortunes might have dipped in the campaign’s final days, after
public disclosures tied the one-time assistant district attorney under
former Winnebago County Dist. Atty. Joe Paulus to the dismissal of a
1998 case involving an Appleton man accused of drunken driving, fourth
numbers: McGinnis - 17,993:
66% Priebe - 9,289: 34%