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Monday, March 2, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 16.0° F  Fair
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Mike Verveer probe: Much ado, little substance
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Verveer has maintained that he did nothing improper.
Verveer has maintained that he did nothing improper.

After 26 months of investigating, the state Justice Department has found that Madison Ald. Mike Verveer, a former Dane County Assistant District Attorney, committed no prosecutable violation of state law, according to a summary report (PDF) released to Isthmus.

"Having completed my review," states Assistant Attorney General David J. Wambach in a 23-page close-out memo, "I have concluded that while Verveer's conduct was very troubling, there is no evidence that would establish a violation of any criminal laws beyond a reasonable doubt. While the conduct of attorney Verveer may have possibly violated his work rules or the rules governing the ethical conduct of attorneys under SCR 20, such a determination is not within the purview of this investigation."

But the Justice Department has forwarded its file from the case to the Office of Lawyer Regulation, an arm of the state Supreme Court that has the authority to initiate disciplinary proceedings against attorneys. Does that mean Justice thinks Verveer violated rules of ethical behavior?

"We have enough concerns that we thought it was appropriate to send it to them," says Assistant Attorney General Steven Means.

Verveer, who left the DA's office in October 2008 when the investigation was requested, declined to discuss its conclusion with Isthmus; his attorney, Eric Schulenberg, did not immediately return a phone message.

In the past, Verveer has maintained that he did nothing improper. And the report released today shows the testimony obtained is of dubious credibility or else concerns, at its core, allegations that Verveer was too eager to help.

The report details contacts between Verveer and 11 criminal defendants, who were being prosecuted by the Dane County DA's Office. The suggestion in each case is that Verveer suggested he could help the defendants secure better outcomes. But in no case, apparently, did he ask for or accept anything in return.

One case concerns an individual named Joseph Redepenning, who received a citation for possession of marijuana in 2005 and the following year was arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated and fleeing an officer. Verveer allegedly arranged a meeting with the young man, during which he allowed Redepenning to smoke (in the City-County Building!) and suggested it was okay if he continued to drive, though this was apparently forbidden.

"Verveer went on to say it was all right if he drove," Wambach's report relates, "but he should just not get pulled over." Redepenning was subsequently arrested for second-offense OWI, and says Verveer remarked that if it were up to him he would dismiss the case. Redepenning was convicted, and allegedly met up with Verveer at a bar before beginning his stint in jail. Redepenning said Verveer knew he was underage and had a fake ID, and steered him to a bar where they were not carded.

Another case concerned a man named Alexander Schmidt, who met Verveer while going through intake on a burglary charge. He said he spoke with Verveer a number of times about this and other troubles, and that the two met socially, as when Verveer bought him meals.

According to the report, "Schmidt said that he was the one who pursued the friendship with Verveer and not the other way around. Schmidt said it seemed to him that Verveer never seemed to mind that Schmidt was calling him all the time, and that from Schmidt's perspective, Verveer never did anything wrong or acted inappropriately."

In yet another case, a man named Justin Hilt evidently claimed that Verveer had reduced his charges on several disorderly conduct cases. But Hilt also said that Verveer never claimed he could help him with these charges and never asked Hilt to do anything for him. Furthermore, the investigation concluded, Hilt's charges were not reduced.

Even more questionable are the claims of a man named Andrew R. Holum, charged with second-offense driving under the influence. Holum told the investigator that Verveer offered him a "get out of jail free card," suggested that the two men smoke pot, and called the stepfather of Holum's friend a "fucking faggot."

In several other cases, Verveer allegedly had phone contacts with defendants in which he seemed interested in helping. But in all these cases, Wambach concluded, Verveer "did not try to obtain any dishonest advantage for himself or anyone else," nor did he solicit or accept anything of value. The investigator reached the same conclusion regarding Verveer's contacts with a drug defendant named Andrew Eastman, but in that case Eastman claimed Verveer had asked if he wanted to, as the report puts it, "smoke a bowl."

Wambach's report notes that the individuals interviewed "all have had some legal problems which may reflect upon their credibility," but notes that their reports were "generally consistent." It states that because Verveer, through his attorney, declined an opportunity to be interviewed by a Justice Department agent, there was no additional information to be considered.

But still, Wambach concludes, "even assuming the events and statements as described by witnesses are truthful and accurate, I cannot find that they constitute violations of any criminal laws."

The report goes on to say, "While the nature, circumstances and extent of Verveer's contacts with defendants is certainly unusual and his statements directly or indirectly offering assistance suspicious, the fact remains that he did not directly suggest he was seeking something in return for his proffered assistance, did not condition his offers of assistance, and did not accept anything in return for his actions."

In all, more than 1,000 pages of records from the investigation were released today, with 500-600 pages of emails set to be released in about two weeks. Assistant AG Means confirms that the emails document the Justice Department's internal communications regarding the probe, which was apparently delayed for some time due to concerns about an earlier draft.

As Isthmus reported ("The Never-Ending Misconduct Probe," 11/11/10), Justice Department spokesman Bill Cosh indicated in late September of 2009 that the investigation "was close" to being complete. "It will possibly be done this week; if not this week, we're hoping next."

More than a month later, Cosh said the investigation had produced a draft report which was under review. Apparently, concerns were raised about that report that caused the investigation, or some part of it, to be reopened.

Means says the delay was caused by the need to check out new leads, but admits that the investigation "took a lower priority to other things that were investigated," in part because Verveer had already been separated from his job with the DA's office.

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