Apr 4, 2014

No Wisconsin Attorney General Candidate Ever Cited The Innocence Project, Until Now

Mal Contends contacted the four major candidates for attorney general, asking three questions pertaining to ethics, the wrongfully convicted, pardons, and the Wisconsin Office of Lawyer Regulation.

In this election for attorney general, a small fraction of the electorate will vote in the August 12 partisan primary.

It is likely the campaign for attorney general will not feature the issues of wrongful conviction, impartiality, and the role of the attorney general in advocating for the state vis a vis the cause of justice, though these are areas of concern for any elected law enforcement official.

One question singles out the case of combat Marine, Eric Pizer (2000 - 2004, Iraq, Kuwait) who pled guilty to a trumped-up charge by the district attorney's office of Grant County (a less-than-sophisticated office) for this Marine home just two days after his return from Iraq in 2004.

As the Wisconsin Constitution is vague on the authority of the attorney general (leaving much to the statutes), the discretion of the attorney general is amplified in our state.

This piece is to inform the campaign with the responses to the questions presented below.

Repeated attempts by phone, email, and campaign-contact applications were made to all four candidates; only one candidate has responded with a response to this three-question questionnaire. One candidate promised, but failed to follow through, and two other candidates declined comment and contact.

The four candidates contacted are Susan Happ, Ismael Ozanne, Jon Richards and Brad Schimel.

The only candidate responding is Ismael Ozanne.

Ozanne's responses along with my three questions are below.
Question: Our outgoing attorney general served as co-chair of a Wisconsin presidential ticket's campaign committee in 2008, a common practice of attorneys general.

In his capacity as attorney general, he and his political party (as Intervenor Plaintiff) filed a lawsuit in a voting rights case, Van Hollen v. Government Accountability Board (2008). This seemed untoward to me.

Do you believe it is ethical to serve as political party campaign chair while sitting as our state's attorney general?

Ismael Ozanne:

It is not unethical to serve as a campaign chair while serving as attorney general.  The service as a campaign chair is not the ethical concern.  The ethical concern is serving as campaign chair and then taking official actions as attorney general that are intended to benefit the campaign in question, and not reflecting the law and the best interests of the people of Wisconsin.  If AG Van Hollen thought it was necessary in his official capacity to participate in legal action involving the campaign, he should have either stepped down from any role in the campaign or recused himself from the legal action.

Question: Wisconsin's governor in December 2013 publicly dismissed Marine Eric Pizer's bid for a pardon in an interview with WKOW TV (Madison), continuing his stance against granting pardons. The governor stated in part: "If you pick one [to be pardoned] there's thousands of other examples out there of people who may not have the media or other outlets behind them, who would be in an equal position who probably have a compelling case to be made that we don't yet know about."

Scott Walker is correct about 1,000s of Wisconsin citizens having a compelling case for pardons.

In light of Walker's position unprecedented in modern Wisconsin history, would your office consider advising district attorneys to open cases for stipulations of time served to secure the freedom of the wrongfully convicted when an array of facts demand this action in the interest of justice?

Realizing this action of seeking justice would be unusual for the office of attorney general, but within its discretion, how much does the imprisonment of an innocent weigh on you?

Ismael Ozanne:

I think that it is unfortunate that Gov. Walker has decided, likely for purely political reasons, not to exercise his authority to grant pardons to deserving people who have turned their lives around.  Pardons are not intended to be used as a vehicle to reverse wrongful convictions.  No prosecutor should want to have innocent people who have been wrongfully convicted stay in prison.  If evidence is brought to the attention of the authorities demonstrating that a mistake has been made, the interests of justice demand that the evidence is carefully reviewed and the individual should be released if exonerated.  As Dane County District Attorney, I have worked with lawyers from the Innocence Project, and will do so in the future.  While these decisions are largely at the discretion of the DAs around the state, I would work with them as attorney general, providing resources and advice in these situations.  The ultimate goal of the system is not simply to secure convictions, it is to do justice.

Question: The Wisconsin Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) is widely regarded as both overly secretive and toothless, and a case study in administrative law capture theory.

As attorney general, would you advocate to the Supreme Court for reforms at the OLR for the health of the legal profession, and the judicial branch of government.

Ismael Ozanne:

The Supreme Court is a co-equal branch of government and it has the authority to maintain the system that we use to regulate the conduct of lawyers in Wisconsin.  In the event that I determined as attorney general that there were aspects of that system that needed to be addressed, I would have no problem making my opinion known through the process. 

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