Dane County prosecutor and district attorney candidate Bob Jambois on Tuesday released letters from two judges scolding his boss, whom he wants to replace, for failing to prepare his office for a new rule that hastens bail hearings for poor inmates.
Jambois, whose criticism of District Attorney Ismael Ozanne’s management style is the cornerstone of his bid to oust him, said the issue is emblematic of chronic dysfunction in the DA’s office.
“It’s just another example of what I’m talking about when I indicate that there’s nobody at the switch in this office,” he said. “There’s nobody taking control of the situation.”
Ozanne said the release of the records didn't tell the whole story and that Jambois didn't take into account legitimate concerns Ozanne has about the rule, which include victims' safety and protecting defendants from needlessly amassing a criminal record.
Jambois released letters from Dane County Circuit Judges Juan Colas, the county's presiding criminal judge, and William Hanrahan, the presiding judge for the county bench, expressing frustration at Ozanne for missing a March 23 meeting on the rule change.
According to a June 28 letter from Colas, the rule will help even the playing field for suspects who can’t afford an attorney, potentially reducing the time they spend in jail. Under the rule, inmates booked into the Dane County Jail before 8 a.m. will get a bail hearing the following day. Before the rule went into effect, only jailed suspects with attorneys could request a prompt bail hearing. But those who couldn't afford attorneys tended to languish for longer periods.
“The rule will help lower the jail population, reduce jail length of stay and lessen the effects on employment and family of being held in jail awaiting a charging decision,” Colas wrote in his letter.
Hanrahan, in a March 24 missive, expressed unvarnished frustration with Ozanne for failing to attend the March 23 meeting.
“Although this date had been selected and noticed months ago, the agenda circulated weeks ago and almost every agenda item required your input, remarkably, no representative of your office was in attendance,” wrote Hanrahan. “Needless to say, as a result of the lack of input from your office, we were not able to accomplish much.”
Colas also expressed frustration with Ozanne, informing him in his letter that he was turning down the district attorney's request to rescind the rule.
Colas wrote that he received Ozanne's June 20 request to rescind the rule on June 27, the day the judge returned from vacation.
Ozanne's letter requesting that Colas rescind the measure was not included in the documents that Jambois released on Tuesday.
In it, Ozanne argued that by making court appearances mandatory for eligible inmates, the rule had unintended consequences. Those include: an inability to contact crime victims regarding bail and victim safety issues; providing accurate information at bail hearings; and the inclusion of bail hearing records on CCAP, the state's online court database, which could compromise defendants' ability to gain housing and employment.
Regarding the latter factor, Ozanne said in an interview, about 25 percent of jailed suspects are not formally charged, so information about their arrests would not under the previous rules be entered into the database.
"Those people now will be placed on CCAP," he said. "We know now that the Legislature's allowed employers and landlords to use that information in their decisions as to whether to rent to or hire someone."
But Colas indicated that Ozanne's efforts to raise his concerns and prepare for the rule fell short.
“There is no indication in your letter of what efforts have been made in the three months since the rule was first publicly proposed to prepare for the changes it makes,” Colas wrote.
He went on to admonish Ozanne, detailing the efforts made to keep the district attorney in the loop. Colas said the proposed rule was sent to Ozanne and several of his staffers on May 17, with an agenda for a May 26 judge’s meeting, during which the judges passed the measure with Ozanne in attendance.
“It was not until June 2, the day after the rule took effect, that you approached me and asked that it be suspended,” Colas wrote. “That was the first notice of your office’s concerns.”
Colas suspended the rule, which was originally slated to go into effect on June 1, until July 1.
Ozanne maintained that while the judges voted on the rule, they didn't open it up for discussion with those in attendance.
"They voted and it passed," he said. "Boom, done, end of the story. There wasn't even an opportunity for discussion in that moment."
As for the missed meeting, Ozanne said he informed the judge of scheduling complications due to the fact that he was leaving town with his family for a spring break vacation. He said representatives from his office were tied up as well, and three of six criminal court judges also couldn't attend.
In addition, he said, on the same day the meeting was held he was slated to speak at a statewide conference on treatment courts, an event for which he delayed his trip.
Jambois said he had suggested ways for the office to deal with the change, but Ozanne made no effort to plan for the rule’s implementation.
“He just ignored it,” Jambois said.
Jambois also released an email to prosecutors from Deputy District Attorney Matthew Moeser, dated two days before the rule took effect, asking for volunteers to work Sundays to prepare for a Monday bail hearing.
“The county board in the past has been reluctant to fund this work, so it would be unpaid for now,” Moeser wrote in the June 29 email to staff. “But we would be willing to authorize a compensatory day off assuming you meet certain productivity goals.”
Jambois, a former Kenosha County district attorney, has been working in the Dane County office for about a year.
Ozanne was appointed to the post in 2010 by former Gov. Jim Doyle. He ran unopposed for a full term in 2012. He and Jambois, both Democrats, will face off in the Aug. 9 primary. Since no one from any other party has filed as a candidate, the primary will determine the race.
Jambois said that Ozanne’s inaction on the bail issue runs counter to his stated objective of alleviating racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
“They are disproportionately minority defendants being locked up,” he said. “And what is our district attorney doing? He’s stonewalling. He’s saying we can’t do it.”
Ozanne, who is black, bristled at the criticism.
"If it was just a question of resources in my office, I'd say we have to do whatever we can to address this," he said. "But I am not OK with doing this on the backs of victims or potentially causing more harm by unintended consequences by putting people on CCAP or not being able to safety plan with victims."