Two employees of a public office that prosecutes alcohol-related offenses violated county work rules and ordinances by consuming alcohol inside the Columbia County Courthouse, Sheriff Roger Brandner said Wednesday.
Brandner said his office had received reports that two staff members in the Columbia County District Attorney’s Office had consumed alcohol inside the office sometime in February.
He said because an investigation is ongoing, he can’t specify what sort of evidence was collected, but he said deputies confiscated an item that appeared to contain alcohol.
Brandner said his office is not investigating the incident, because it is not being charged as a criminal matter. He said Columbia County Human Resources Director Joseph Ruf is overseeing an investigation. A call to his office Wednesday was not returned.
Brandner also said that aside from the initial reports, he has not received any further allegations of office drinking.
Former District Attorney Tristan Eagon resigned Tuesday. In her resignation letter, Eagon said county leaders had tried to “strong-arm” her and gave her an ultimatum to either quit or “render this completely inoperable.”
Brandner said he had only two conversations with Eagon, but he thought they had a positive working relationship.
Judge Todd Hepler said he thought he got along well with Eagon, but he called her corruption allegations against Columbia County’s government “baseless” and “shameful.”
Hepler said he was particularly surprised when he saw a TV interview in which Eagon did not deny on camera whether anyone had consumed alcohol in her office. In that interview, Eagon also suggested office drinking would theoretically only be appropriate in order to “celebrate wins.”
Hepler said anytime he has to sentence someone to prison, it’s a horrible feeling but a necessary action.
“It may be justice, but that’s not a win. It’s not a happy time,” Hepler said. “I was pretty surprised. I don’t think it’s appropriate.”
He pointed out that there are several bars near the downtown courthouse and questioned why employees who drank in the office couldn’t walk a block for a drink instead of doing so on public property.
Eagon was appointed by former Gov. Scott Walker in December after former District Attorney Jane Kohlwey announced last August that she would retire in January.
Gov. Tony Evers announced in a press release Wednesday he is seeking applicants for district attorney to fill out the remainder of Kohlwey’s elected four-year term, which expires in January 2021.
In the meantime, Dodge County District Attorney Kurt Klomberg will serve as special prosecutor in charge of the Columbia County office, according to a press release.
Brandner said he has assigned one of his secretaries to help staff the district attorney’s office for the time being, and most of the office’s support staff returned to work Wednesday morning.
The office reopened to the public Wednesday, after it was unexpectedly shuttered for two days.
Brandner said he is “very disappointed” to see how things have evolved in the district attorney’s office, and he added that not having the office open to the public and operating as normal for two days has placed a burden on due process.
“It sure gives a black eye to the entire Columbia County judicial system,” Brandner said.
Madison-based attorney Michael Yang said he has many clients in Columbia County who feel frustrated over delays as pretrial conferences have been largely rescheduled this week.
But Brandner said he fully believes the four assistant district attorneys who remain in the office will rebound and have conducted themselves professionally.
Hepler also said the developments this week have resulted in a backlog in court scheduling as the remaining assistant district attorneys are left to pick up new cases they might not be familiar with.
But he also noted that the remaining staff are still doing their jobs and pushing forward as best as they can.
Employees working inside the district attorney’s office Wednesday told the Daily Register, “We have nothing for you.” The employees directed any questions to either Ruf or the state Department of Administration.