Dane County sheriff candidate Dave Mahoney violated the office's conflict-of-interest rules last year by investigating a series of obscene phone calls made to a 10-year-old girl without telling a judge or his supervisors the child was his niece.
Mahoney, a senior detective with the Sheriff's Office and Democratic
Mahoney candidate to succeed outgoing Sheriff Gary Hamblin, received a letter of reprimand for his actions in October 2005.
On Tuesday, he said the incident was the sole disciplinary blemish on his 26-year career and a "lapse in judgment" he wouldn't repeat.
But he also said he was troubled by how the information surfaced, accusing a supporter of Mike Hanson, his Republican opponent, of releasing the reprimand letter for political advantage.
"I'm highly suspect as to why this came out now," Mahoney said. "It's awfully suspicious that it comes up 21 days before the general election."
Mark Hazelbaker, a Madison attorney active in GOP politics who faxed the State Journal a copy of the reprimand letter, acknowledged he wants Hanson to be sheriff and has given money to his campaign.
But Hazelbaker said he only passed on the information because he believed voters had a right to know about it.
"It's a matter that deserves public scrutiny," he said. "I'm not saying (Mahoney) is an evil person. I just thought it was important that we know what his credentials are."
\ Reviewed files of both
Hazelbaker said he found the letter after reviewing copies of both candidates' employment records at the Sheriff's Office for any information "relevant to the election."
Hanson, a Madison police officer who serves as the department's public information officer, worked as a civilian at the Sheriff's Office from 1994 to 1998. Hazelbaker said Hanson's file contained no disciplinary actions, and acknowledged Mahoney's file includes "dozens of glowing letters" about good things Mahoney has done.
"I don't want to take anything away from him," Hazelbaker said. "Many people said extraordinary things about him. To be fair to Mr. Mahoney, one always has to judge any reports of official misconduct in the context of the entire career."
Hanson on Tuesday said he had not seen the reprimand letter but was recently told of it.
"It's disappointing," Hanson said. "In our community, where civil liberties and trust in law enforcement is so important, this takes us back decades from the high ethical standards and integrity that are in place now."
That the victim in the case was Mahoney's niece is no excuse for not following Sheriff's Office rules about conflicts, Hanson added.
"I don't care what the circumstances are -- no one is above the law," Hanson said.
Mahoney and his campaign aide, Andrea Novotny, objected to Hanson's conclusions.
"Dave doesn't believe he's above the law," Novotny said. "He violated a Sheriff's Office work rule, and it was dealt with in this reprimand."
\ Subpoena questioned
The reprimand letter, dated Oct. 24, 2005, says Mahoney was told by an immediate family member about the obscene calls to his niece on March 28, 2005. Two days later, he asked a judge for a subpoena to obtain documents to investigate the case and was granted it.
According to the letter, the judge first asked Mahoney "if the Sheriff's Office owes something to this (victim)" or "if the (victim) was a political contributor" -- apparently because the judge thought the subpoena request was a drastic step for an investigation into harassing phone calls, Mahoney said in an interview.
Mahoney told the judge the victim was 10 and the incidents deserved follow-up but didn't mention he was her uncle.
"This omission on your part speaks to your realization that this could be perceived as a conflict," the letter said.
The reprimand letter, issued by sheriff's Sgt. Gary Anderson, said Mahoney further erred by continuing with the investigation and not telling his supervisors about it until he turned the case over to an out-of-state police agency, which solved it. The letter notes Mahoney should have involved his supervisors from the start.
"The sheriff's office has established procedures to maintain fair and impartial enforcement," the letter said. "These procedures provide a way of handling real, potential or apparent conflicts. Your obligation in this situation was to seek guidance from a supervisor before proceeding."
\ A judgment lapse
Mahoney on Tuesday said he didn't lie to the judge by holding back the information.
"I didn't think it was a problem in relation to the questions that were asked (by the judge)," Mahoney said. "I took those questions to be in jest."
As to not informing supervisors, Mahoney called that a judgement lapse. He also said he would have pushed for a subpoena whether he was related to the child or not.
"I take these types of incidents involving our kids and attempts to entice children very seriously," he said.
Mahoney said he made no attempt to hide the disciplinary action from the public, noting that he authorized release of his personnel records even before he announced his candidacy for the sheriff's race in June because he knew people would want to see them.
"It's a normal practice to have requests for open records and I support that," he said.