Former Corrections Secretary Ed Wall faces some hurdles in having a state commission reverse his recent firing at the Justice Department, according to a UW-Madison professor who helped revise the state’s civil service system rules.
Wall was fired last week in connection with a letter he sent last month to Gov. Scott Walker’s chief of staff Rich Zipperer, alerting him that he planned to appeal what he claims was an illegal demotion at DOJ. In the letter he suggested Zipperer could shred the letter to avoid it being subject to the public records law.
Wall resigned as Corrections secretary in January amid a state and federal investigation into abuse allegations at the state’s Lincoln Hills juvenile prison in Irma. Wall initially returned to his previous position as administrator of the DOJ’s Division of Criminal Investigation, but was placed on paid leave to avoid any potential conflict with the ongoing investigation. He was then moved to a lower-level administrator position at the same pay level.
Wall’s appeal of the demotion will be heard by the three-member Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, Peter Davis, the commission’s legal counsel, said Tuesday.
Most employment disputes are first heard by a hearing officer, but because of the high-profile nature of the Wall case the commission decided to hear the case directly — something that happens once every four or five years, Davis said.
Wall also plans to appeal his termination, though his lawyer Dan Bach said it’s unclear whether that will move forward through the WERC grievance process, or through a whistleblower retaliation claim with the Department of Workforce Development.
Dennis Dresang, a UW-Madison emeritus professor of public policy and political science, said reversing the termination could be difficult because Wall’s action in trying to circumvent the state public records law “borders on grounds for dismissal.”
Bach disputed that Wall was circumventing the public records law, saying it was a private correspondence, that he did not direct Zipperer to do anything and that it was Zipperer’s decision to treat it as a public record.
Dresang also said under the state’s civil service law and prior court rulings, Wall is entitled to return to a position with similar pay and responsibilities, but not necessarily the exact same position.
Bach said Wall should have been restored as DCI administrator, which unlike almost every other career executive appointment is a protected civil service position, because there is no equivalent in state law enforcement.
The state recently made changes to its civil service law getting rid of so-called “bumping rights,” but those changes don’t take effect until July 1. They also wouldn’t apply to Wall’s case because the Legislature left in place bumping rights for civil servants who take a leave of absence, as Wall did to serve in Walker’s cabinet.
A DOJ spokesman declined to comment.