Wisconsin State Journal

Outagamie County DA faces possible public reprimand

By DEE J. HALL | dhall@madison.com | 608-252-6132 | Posted: Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Office of Lawyer Regulation wants to publicly reprimand Outagamie County District Attorney Carrie Schneider, saying she didn’t disclose a plea offer made to a witness and allowed the witness to lie under oath about it at trial.

The testimony of Jared Gehrt was key evidence against Jeffrey Hansen, who was charged with a string of robberies of Fox River Valley businesses in 2003.

Gehrt, the alleged accomplice, was offered a deal by one of Schneider’s assistants in exchange for testifying but it was rejected.

Judges and juries often are suspicious of witnesses with incentives to fabricate testimony to benefit themselves. So when Gehrt took the witness stand, Schneider asked whether he received any offers of leniency in exchange for his testimony.

Gehrt lied, testifying prosecutors had not made any plea offers. Schneider denies knowing that her assistant had made the offer at the time of the trial.

The agency now is seeking public discipline against Schneider for her handling of Gehrt’s testimony and her failure to reveal the offer to Hansen’s defense attorney and Circuit Judge John Des Jardins, who presided over the trial.

OLR files an average of one complaint against a prosecutor a year. Some matters take years to complete, with the Wisconsin Supreme court making the final decision in all attorney discipline matters.

Schneider, in a statement last week, denied OLR’s allegations that she violated Supreme Court rules, saying she wasn’t aware of the offer when she put Gehrt on the stand and she will fight the action.

“I can’t in good conscience admit wrongdoing that I didn’t commit just for the sake of expediency or to avoid personal hardship,” said Schneider, a Republican.

The allegations against Schneider stem from a complaint filed in 2007 by Sheila Martin Berry, the former victim/witness coordinator for Winnebago County who runs Truth In Justice, an organization that publicizes wrongful convictions and misconduct by police and prosecutors.

OLR twice dismissed Berry’s complaint before taking action. At one point, Berry said, the agency told her it wouldn’t investigate the allegations since Des Jardins already overturned Hansen’s conviction on the same grounds — that Gehrt lied about having a plea offer and Schneider failed to disclose it.

At Hansen’s second trial in 2005, he was convicted again and now is serving an 18-year sentence.

OLR recommended that three prosecutors be reprimanded since 2007 — two public reprimands and one 90-day suspension.

Truth in Justice
Police/Prosecutor Misconduct