By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — In December, Attorney General Josh Kaul signed off on the Wisconsin Department of Justices’ Equity and Inclusion Plan. The state’s liberal top cop just doesn’t seem to be living up to the same standards he’s set.
Two Republican candidates looking to replace him say the discrimination and hostile workplace allegations recently lodged against Kaul and his office underscore a lack of leadership at the DOJ.
“I think we’ve got to ask questions like, what kind of HR training is there in the Department of Justice? Are they engaged even in such simple things as how not to engage in harassment or discriminatory behavior?” said Ryan Owens, an attorney, University of Wisconsin professor, and former director of the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership. In April, Owens, who describes himself as a constitutional conservative, declared his candidacy for attorney general.
“I think if we look at what’s happening here, there are some very serious allegations that high-level individuals have been engaged in a systematic effort to silence some people, to bully some people,” Owens said.
As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently reported, Tina Virgil, in charge of the DOJ’s Division of Law Enforcement Services, filed a federal race and sex discrimination complaint in April. Virgil, who is a black woman, accuses Kaul and the agency of unfairly compensating her and mistreating her because of her race and gender.
The newspaper reports that Virgil accuses Deputy Attorney General Eric Wilson of often exploding in anger “when Virgil or other women disagreed with him.” She also claimed her calls were secretly recorded by Brian O’Keefe, chief of the DOJ’s Division of Criminal Investigation. (The latter sounds like an Evers administration tactic).
Virgil is seeking lost wages, compensatory and punitive damages, and legal fees, according to the newspaper. A DOJ spokeswoman said Virgil is the sixth-highest paid employee at the agency, and that her salary is appropriate.
Kaul’s office has yet to release an investigative report on harassment complaints at DOJ, a report that was completed more than a year ago. The delay — or downright failure to release the report — is a troubling sign from the office that enforces Wisconsin’s open records law.
Virgil’s attorney, Lester Pines, did not return Empower Wisconsin’s request for comment.
Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney, a Republican who also announced in April he’s running for attorney general, said Kaul is Wisconsin’s top cop, “and the buck stops with him.”
“He needs to be transparent, and ensure the harassment and discrimination abuses never happen again,” Toney said. “This is a troubling example of Kaul’s inexperience and failed leadership.”
It also appears to be an example of the hyper-partisan attorney general’s hypocrisy.
As MacIver News Service reported, in December Kaul approved the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s “Equity and Inclusion Plan” for January 2021 to June 2023. It focused heavily on diversifying DOJ’s staff through targeted recruiting and retention programs. One approved strategy increases promotion rates for minorities in the department.
DOJ distributed the plan to employees in January. It’s expected to hold a town hall for supervisors in June on how to implement it.
In November, Kaul signed onto a letter urging President Trump to not end government implicit bias training.
“Implicit bias trainings strengthen workplaces by helping them become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. The federal government should be promoting implicit bias trainings, not interfering with them,” Kaul stated at the time.