Brad Schimel, GOP attorney general candidate, admits driving drunk

2014-01-08T17:15:00Z Brad Schimel, GOP attorney general candidate, admits driving drunkDEE J. HALL | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6132

A day after saying he was skeptical of criminalizing first-offense drunken driving, Republican candidate for attorney general Brad Schimel admitted Wednesday that nearly 24 years ago, he was arrested for drunken driving.

“I made a terrible error of judgment as a young person, and it’s a mistake that I deeply regret,” Schimel said in a statement. “I pleaded guilty and took responsibility for my actions, and I continue to work each day to help others learn from my experience.”

Schimel’s campaign did not respond to questions seeking details about the arrest in 1990 when he was 24, the same year he graduated from UW-Madison Law School and joined the Waukesha County District Attorney’s Office.

Schimel has been the elected district attorney for Waukesha County since 2006.

The state Legislature is debating whether to make first-offense drunken driving in which a person has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 percent or above a misdemeanor, rather than a non-criminal offense that carries a fine. The current threshold for drunken driving is 0.08 percent.

Wisconsin is the only state that punishes first-offense drunken driving with a ticket. Top Republican leaders in the Legislature have been cool to a set of bills that would increase penalties on drunken driving, citing cost estimates in the hundreds of millions of dollars if passed.

On Tuesday, Schimel said such a move would jam the courts and result in fines flowing to the state rather than municipalities.

In a statement, Schimel campaign consultant Darrin Schmitz said the candidate “neither opposes or supports” criminalizing first-offense drunken driving but believes Wisconsin should see whether such an approach has reduced drunken driving in other states.

“Given the large financial impact this will have on the Wisconsin court system,” Schmitz said, “it’s necessary for the Legislature to do their homework.”

Schmitz added that Schimel does favor criminalizing second-offense drunken driving by eliminating the “loophole” that allows first offenses older than 10 years to be removed from a driver’s record.

Democratic opponent state Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, said Schimel should have been “more immediately forthcoming” about his drunken driving ticket.

The other Democrat in the race, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, declined comment on Schimel’s drunken driving offense.

Ozanne supports criminalizing first-time drunken driving, saying the Legislature should adequately fund prosecutors’ offices for the cases they have now as well as the new criminal cases such a change would create.

In 2004, then-Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, a Democrat, was arrested for drunken driving after driving off Interstate 94, causing minor damage to her state vehicle. She lost the next election during a primary against then-Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk.

In his statement, the 48-year-old Schimel said his work as a career prosecutor includes “combating drunken driving and the very real dangers it creates.”

Schimel cited several anti-drunken driving programs that he launched or participated in, including the Waukesha County Alcohol Treatment Court, which he said was the first such court in Wisconsin to create an intensive treatment program for repeat intoxicated drivers.

“My experience led me to help create a variety of innovative and successful programs designed to reduce the number of first-time offenders and repeat drunken drivers,” Schimel said.

Richards cited his own anti-drunken driving bona fides in responding to Schimel’s 1990 arrest. Richards said he backs the bill eliminating the 10-year loophole and a bill he co-sponsored to expand the use of ignition interlock devices to prevent drunken drivers from getting behind the wheel.

Richards’ spokesman Sachin Chheda said the lawmaker is “open” to the idea of criminalizing first-offense drunken driving, “but he knows there’s significant resistance in the Legislature to go there.” Chheda said Richards plans to keep pushing the other bills, which have bipartisan support.

Schimel, Richards and Ozanne are vying to replace Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who announced he will not seek re-election to the four-year post.

— The Associated Press

contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(19) Comments

  1. concerned_citizen
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    concerned_citizen - January 09, 2014 12:13 pm
    Wisconsin has a serious problem with drunk driving.
    Brad Schimel sounds like a reasonable guy, and that he took responsibility for his drunk driving arrest 24 years ago.
    Certainly Peg Lautenschlager paid a heavy price for her drunk driving conviction, as she should have. But when Gov Doyle encouraged Kathleen Falk to run against her in the primary it seemed a little "messy". (Of course Kathleen Falk then lost to JB Van Hollen in the general election)
    With so many sitting legislators in WI having drunk driving convictions and with the amazing power of "the brewers" and the Tavern League - and the nearly universal attitude among Wisconsinites "Hey, who hasn't driven drunk?" I suspect we will continue to lead the nation in both drunk driving and the tragedies that are associated with that status.

    Should first offense drunk driving be a traffic ticket? Or a misdemeanor? Depends if we want to continue to be both the only state in nation using a mere traffic ticket as punishment/deterrence AND the leading state in drunk driving (tragedies).

    I live in Dane County, and I think Brad Schimel is still a candidate worth considering for AG even though he has been convicted of drunk driving. His opposition to making first offense drunk driving a misdemeanor makes him less attractive, however.

    And I wish people who hated our current President would at least call him by his name.
    Trying to remember how much George W Bush drank? It was a lot, wasn't it? And, uh, might he have done a little cocaine or other "recreational drugs" in his time? Most likely, don't you think?
    The irony of his campaign against the bore Al Gore promoting the "I'd rather have a beer with W" when he was a recovering alcoholic who no longer drank was delicious. And successful. What does that say about their audience?
  2. emgee
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    emgee - January 09, 2014 9:28 am
    May we have Doug Moe's thoughts on this matter??
  3. furryguy44
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    furryguy44 - January 09, 2014 7:03 am
    This happened 24 years ago. Now the mudslingers want to make a big issue out of it. The clown, Obozo, snorted cocaine years ago. That seems to be OK with the left-wingers out in LaLa land. Can you imagine what the UPOS in the White House is hiding. I am willing to bet it is far more egregious than than an OWI 24 years ago. I will support Schimel for AG in Wisconsin. If you live in Dane County; anything a Republican does or has done is reason to condemn them. Common sense does not prevail here.
  4. John_Galt
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    John_Galt - January 08, 2014 7:32 pm
    This is Wisconsin, home of the Brewers. Who hasn't driven after a few beers?
    It was a long time ago and no repeats, give him a break.
  5. adamman
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    adamman - January 08, 2014 7:28 pm
    24 years ago? Really? How many times do I see reports about Wisconsin drivers being arrested 4,5,6,7,8,9,10 times or more for OWI offenses? Focus on the current offenders and get them off the streets. Leave this guy alone. Sheesch.
  6. adamman
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    adamman - January 08, 2014 7:24 pm
  7. koala
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    koala - January 08, 2014 7:05 pm
    Not good at all; DUI can have catastrophic effects. And 24 is surely within the age of reason. And Schimel does not appear, even now, to support criminalization of first-time DUI. Those points are all to the bad. On the other hand, he paid the price (at the time), is willing to talk about it now, and appears not to have fallen into a repeated pattern. Which is all to the good. Score me as less likely to vote for Schimel, but not willing to rule him out.
  8. mbadger
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    mbadger - January 08, 2014 6:16 pm
    If driving after drinking is a criminal offense for a first time offender we need to include texting and driving and talking on a cell phone while driving. Both activities are equivalent to drunken driving.
  9. Chief Mukwonago
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    Chief Mukwonago - January 08, 2014 5:57 pm
    Drunk driving, no problem! We all have done it at one time or another.

    Hey, how are you?
  10. snootyelites
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    snootyelites - January 08, 2014 5:17 pm
    Big difference between an intern with DUI & a sitting attorney journal. Independent voters realize that. This issue is a non-starter.

    What we want to know is what kind of crime fighting record he has including white collar crime.
  11. madisoncabbie
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    madisoncabbie - January 08, 2014 5:15 pm
    I didn't know Peg was a guy.
  12. wolfgang0werk
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    wolfgang0werk - January 08, 2014 5:13 pm
    Love the discussion! My question coming from a social worker/therapist background is this the one and only time he drove his car intoxicated?? Having had contact with many DUI drivers required to seek therapy, most drunks get behind the wheel of their car numerous times before they are ever pulled over. I will give him a break since it happened 24 years ago!!!
  13. madisoncabbie
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    madisoncabbie - January 08, 2014 5:09 pm
    I didn't know Peg was a guy.
  14. Fartinthewind
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    Fartinthewind - January 08, 2014 5:02 pm
    Actually, I give this guy credit. He screwed up. He paid the price. He seems to have gone on to lead a productive life.

    Perhaps even more importantly, he's not out there banging the drum about how important it is to hammer the next guy who makes the same mistake he made.

    I don't know anything about this guy's politics. All I know right now is that he's in the GOP. Right away that's a strike against him. I don't like a lot of the GOP policies on crime and I hate their moral grandstanding. Time and more disclosure will tell if he is into moral grandstanding, but right now it looks like he isn't and I tend to agree with his position on the issue of drunk driving.

    I think he is going to weather this storm, as well he should.
  15. Tim Turnstone
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    Tim Turnstone - January 08, 2014 4:45 pm
    "He has been thrown off balance as a result of a personal stumble, but he righted his course quickly. The sooner this incident becomes the footnote that it will ultimately be to the long, good history of Brad Schimel's service to Wisconsin, the better." Capital Times

    Oh ... I'm sorry, that was actually what the Cap Times said when DEM Peg Lautenschlager got a DUI WHILE SERVING as AG. The State Journal brands are obviously much less forgiving about a REP offense from 23 years ago ....
  16. witness2012
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    witness2012 - January 08, 2014 4:09 pm
    I knew before looking at the comments that someone would compare this guy's DUI to Kathleen Vinehout not wearing a seat belt, while a passenger, during her recent car accident.

    That was predictable.

    What was not predictable was that someone would think not wearing a seat belt was worse than drunk driving in terms of risk to public safety, need for disincentive in the name of penalties, etc.

    But, I guess, if the person who received the DUI was a Republican, running for office, and the person who wasn't wearing a seat belt was a Democrat, who might run for office, in the skewed thinking of some conservatives, that logic would make sense.

    Sad that this is where we still are in this state. Polarized to an insane degree.
  17. hankdog
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    hankdog - January 08, 2014 4:05 pm

    I am not too concerned about my safety, or that of my family if some other driver doesn't use a seat belt. But I have significant concern if anyone is driving impaired. I would like to see anyone receiving a DUI to do some time in the local slammer. And if they caused an accident resulting in injury or death they should be charged as a felon and spend significant jail time.
  18. jcboo
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    jcboo - January 08, 2014 3:44 pm
    In most cases, DUI is probably not something that anybody intentionally sets out to do. On the other hand, we have a potential candidate for Governor who recently neglected or refused, as a very deliberate and conscious decision, to not wear a seat belt. What message does that send? And why is the penalty for that only $10.00, while the first DUI is approximately $1,000.00 plus points, and mega-bucks in additional insurance costs?! Something is wrong here! I think the legislature really needs to focus more on seat belt usage, and texting, where most of today's real risks are.
  19. freddiebell
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    freddiebell - January 08, 2014 2:58 pm
    I do not see this as a partisan political matter. It is a human issue, not a Republican or Democratic one. He made a mistake. It was almost a quarter century ago. It is not a pattern of behavior and there is no evidence that this was anything more than an isolated moment of bad judgment and behavior on his part.

    Yes, it is important to have full and fair disclosure if it is done by someone who is running for public office and could be tasked with making and/or enforcing our laws. But at some point we also should exercise forgiveness for mistakes made and move on, especially if it was long ago and not representative of a person's overall behavior. Nobody gets it right every time. Let's look at the whole body of evidence of his work and decision making before we choose to pass judgment overall.
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