Special prosecutor set in town of Geneva evidence case

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Kayla Bunge
Jason Smathers
Friday, June 25, 2010
— A special prosecutor will handle the case of a former town of Geneva police sergeant accused of mishandling evidence.

Walworth County Judge Michael Gibbs ruled Wednesday a perceived conflict of interest merits having somebody other than the Walworth County District Attorney’s Office prosecute Robert Haase, 42.

Haase is charged with misconduct in public office and faces up to seven years in prison and $20,000 in fines.

Gibbs ordered the DA’s office to appoint a special prosecutor within 10 days or the court would appoint one.

The criminal complaint against Haase alleges he did not document evidence from an April 2008 sexual assault case, among others. It also claims Haase did not give prosecutors other evidence, such as recorded interviews. Haase was placed on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation into the allegations.

Haase’s attorney Stephen Kramer argued that Haase’s close relationship with the district attorney’s office as a witness in other cases creates an unavoidable conflict of interest. Without a special prosecutor, the DA’s office would be challenging Haase’s credibility in the misconduct case while working to bolster his credibility in pending drunken driving cases where he might be a witness, Kramer said.

As part of Haase’s defense, his attorneys likely will call many if not all members of the DA’s office as witnesses, Kramer said.

He pointed out that the district attorney’s office asked the Wisconsin Department of Justice for an opinion on the potential conflict of interest.

Gibbs agreed, saying justice not only has to be done but also “appear to be done.”

Assistant District Attorney Diane Donohoo said she anticipated that only District Attorney Phil Koss and Deputy District Attorney Josh Grube would be called as witnesses, which would be ethically permissible.

She also noted that she had no involvement with any of the cases where Haase would be a witness and therefore should not be called to testify.

Gibbs said he had no doubt Donohoo would prosecute the case fairly, but he said the potential conflicts of interest could raise ethical concerns at every turn and bog down the case.

“The defense indicates it intends to call everybody from the DA’s office as a witness,” Gibbs said. “Right there, bam, you’re done. If he had served a subpoena on you, you’re all out.”

While the defense asserted they wanted the prosecutor to avoid impropriety, Donohoo suggested it was a plea tactic.

“This is forum shopping,” Donohoo said. “They want somebody else who might give them a better deal.”

Haase remains free on a signature bond. No further court dates will be scheduled until the special prosecutor is appointed.

Town to pursue further action against officer

A former town police sergeant facing criminal charges of mishandling evidence soon could face more disciplinary action from the town.

The town police commission in November demoted Robert Haase for engaging in conduct unbecoming an officer and mishandling evidence. He was suspended for 90 days and permitted to return as a patrolman with a lower salary.

But Haase has been on paid administrative leave since the beginning of a criminal investigation of misconduct in public office. Even though he’s not working, the town is paying him about $5,000 per month plus benefits.

Prosecutors filed criminal charges against him in April, and a Walworth County judge on Thursday ordered that a special prosecutor handle the case.

Geneva Town Chairman Dan Lauderdale said town officials had planned to take no further action against Haase until after the criminal case was over, but they now are concerned the case has stalled in court.

“I’m fearful that (hearings) will continue (to be delayed), and we will have to keep paying him,” he said. “We realized that and … decided to seek legal advice as to whether or not to pursue administrative charges prior to the conclusion of the pending criminal case.”

The town board recently voted to hire a Milwaukee attorney who specializes in employment litigation and police-related matters to review police reports and transcripts of hearings to see if any other disciplinary action could be taken against Haase.

Lauderdale said the town would rather not pay a police officer who is not working.

“It’s not something we want to spend when serious allegations have occurred,” he said. “But we’re being careful and prudent with this whole thing.”

Last updated: 1:59 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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