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Judge: State agency decision upholding firing of ex-DOC chief was proper

From the Alleged abuses uncovered at Wisconsin youth prison series

A state agency that reviewed and upheld the firing of former state Department of Corrections secretary Ed Wall, who had returned to the state Department of Justice after resigning from DOC, properly and lawfully reached its conclusions, a Dane County judge ruled Tuesday.

The Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission last year upheld Wall’s firing by the state Department of Justice. WERC found that Wall had attempted to evade the state open records law when he sent a letter to the home of Gov. Scott Walker’s chief of staff, Rich Zipperer, asking that the governor’s office intervene in DOJ’s decision to reassign Wall to another post at the agency, instead of letting him remain as head of the DOJ’s Division of Criminal Investigation.

Wall had been DCI administrator before he was appointed state DOC secretary by Walker. He later resigned amid an investigation of alleged abuse at Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls, the state’s juvenile prisons. Wall decided to return to DOJ, where he was reinstated but placed on paid leave, and soon was reassigned to a job as program and policy manager at DOJ’s Division of Law Enforcement Services.

Wall tried to appeal to Zipperer to intervene at DOJ, but was rebuffed. In March 2016, he sent a copy of his draft appeal to Zipperer’s home, including a note asking that Zipperer shred the material after reading it. Wall wrote that he knew Zipperer didn’t want him sending the material “electronically or to the office because of the records issue.”

Dane County Circuit Judge Everett Mitchell wrote that he had only to determine whether WERC had committed any legal errors in reaching its conclusion, and said the agency had not. He found that WERC’s decision that Wall intended to hide a document he believed to be public from public view was supported by the evidence WERC considered, and that WERC properly interpreted state law when it said that DOJ’s decision to fire Wall was not excessive punishment.

“WERC made a reasonable inference in concluding that Wall’s misconduct not only had the potential to erode public trust in government but also to erode Wall’s ability to perform the duties of his high-level position,” Mitchell wrote. “Wall’s misconduct could easily cause subordinate employees to lose trust in his ability to manage and perform his responsibilities effectively and faithfully.”

Wall’s attorney, Lester Pines, could not be immediately reached for comment.

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