Republican Party officials are calling on Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul to release investigative reports of harassment complaints at the state Department of Justice.
“Not only does Josh Kaul, our state’s top prosecutor, refuse to stand up against discrimination and abuse within his own department, but he’s covering it up,” said Anna Kelly, spokeswoman for the state GOP.
Officials with the Department of Justice maintain the reports are being prepared for public release. There is no timeline for when the editing process will be completed.
“The Wisconsin Department of Justice takes the rights of those who file complaints and of public records subjects seriously,” said Kaul spokeswoman Gillian Drummond.
“Both the complainants and the respondents were offered the opportunity to review the redacted reports (from the investigation). When that process and the process under Wisconsin law for supplementing a public records disclosure have been completed, DOJ will release the records.”
The Journal Sentinel reported this week that a top official in Kaul’s shop filed a race and sex discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on April 16, accusing state officials of underpaying and mistreating her because she is a Black woman.
EEOC complaints are not public, but the newspaper obtained a copy of the filing by the Kaul appointee.
Review by outside agency
In her complaint, Tina Virgil — head of the Division of Law Enforcement Services — disclosed that Kaul brought in an outside agency last year to look into working conditions at the Department of Justice after staffers raised concerns about possible harassment. The outside agency was the University of Wisconsin System.
Sources say the investigation focused on the actions of two top Department of Justice staffers, Deputy Attorney General Eric Wilson and Brian O’Keefe, who is retiring soon as head of the Division of Criminal Investigation.
Virgil had accused Wilson of repeatedly mistreating female staffers, saying he often exploded in anger when Virgil or other women disagreed with him. She also said her calls were secretly recorded by O’Keefe, who was trying to put her job in jeopardy. Wilson and O’Keefe have not commented.
Last week, the Journal Sentinel asked for a copy of the reports with the findings from the harassment investigation but was told it was in the “redaction process.”
Virgil contends in her complaint that the reports have been done since May 2020 but that her lawyers have been denied access to them. Records show her attorneys first requested the information in September.
“The Department has not taken any action or issued any recommendations in response to the investigative report,” Virgil’s complaint said.
Without disclosing the details of the reports, Drummond suggested her agency has addressed issues raised in them. Elsewhere, she said, the investigation found that “the preponderance of the evidence did not support the allegations of work-rule violations.”
“When allegations were brought to the AG’s attention, DOJ took action to initiate an outside investigation by an independent entity,” Drummond said. “Once the reports from that independent investigation were complete, DOJ reviewed the reports and followed up with those involved in the investigation. DOJ then began the extensive process of preparing the records for public release.”
Officials say this process has been quite elaborate. It began with a line-by-line review of the reports, which total more than 250 pages. Those who filed the harassment complaints were then given a chance to review the reports, and officials made edits in response to their comments.
Finally, those who were the subjects of the open records requests were allowed to add information as permitted by state law. State officials then had to edit the information added by those individuals.
In recent days, staffers within the Department of Justice contacted the Journal Sentinel to express concern about how long the agency has taken to release the documents. They noted that the agency regulates the state’s open records law but seems to be exploiting it in this case.
Kaul’s 2017 statements cited
Kelly, the Republican Party official, noted that in 2017, Kaul argued the public has a right to know what’s in sexual harassment complaints against state lawmakers and their staff.
She said he should apply the same standard here and release the investigative report.
“Kaul should take his own advice from 2017 and give the public access to the investigation into his agency’s work environment instead of continuing to leave Wisconsinites and victims of his dysfunctional department in the dark,” Kelly said.
Fond du Lac District Attorney Eric Toney, a Republican running for attorney general, chimed in with his own concerns about Kaul’s handling of the issues.
“Josh Kaul is our state’s top cop, and the buck stops with him,” Toney said. “He needs to be transparent, and ensure the harassment and discrimination abuses never happen again.”
Another Republican candidate, UW-Madison professor Ryan Owens, added: Attorney General Kaul must be fully transparent and allow the investigation to move forward. The State of Wisconsin deserves that.”
In her complaint, Virgil, 56, says she was hired at a salary below her predecessor, a white male. She says she also has more experience than any other administrator in the Department of Justice but is paid less than all but one, based on 2019 data. All of the other administrators are white.
Virgil also claims she has been the subject of nonstop abusive behavior over the past two years because of her race and gender.
Sources said the UW System investigation did not look into the pay inequities, just the harassment complaints.
Drummond has countered by saying that Virgil is currently the sixth highest-paid of Kaul’s 10 appointees, placing her in the middle of the pack. Virgil makes $116,022 a year, up more than $4,500 from her pay at the start of 2019.
Drummond also said Virgil makes less than her predecessor because the State Crime Lab was moved from her division when she was appointed by Kaul to her current post in January 2019. As a result, the size of the division was sliced by more than 60%.
“We are confident that the salary is appropriate,” Drummond said.