Former Corrections Secretary Ed Wall will pursue a whistleblower retaliation claim against the state for firing him after he disclosed a draft complaint against the Department of Justice for an earlier demotion, his lawyer said Friday.
Attorney General Brad Schimel confirmed the termination Friday, a month after the department initiated disciplinary action against Wall in connection with a letter he sent to Gov. Scott Walker’s chief of staff in which he suggested he could shred a public document. The letter included a draft complaint to the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission related to what Wall claims was an unlawful demotion at DOJ.
“I know that you didn’t want me sending this electronically or to the office because of the records issue, so I elected instead to send it to your home in writing and would ask that you feel free to shred it once you’ve looked it over,” Wall wrote to Walker chief of staff Rich Zipperer. “I understand the concern the administration has over creating records Rich, but I can’t let that harm me or my family worse than we’ve already been harmed.”
Walker’s office released the letter sent to Zipperer, illustrating it had not been shredded, and Zipperer’s response in which he states, “I want to make it clear that the letter is not an accurate representation of our conversations regarding the manner in which we handle records in our administration.”
In a statement to the Wisconsin State Journal on Friday, Schimel denied that the firing was in retaliation for Wall’s WERC complaint.
“Unfortunately, I lost confidence with Mr. Wall and determined he could no longer serve in any capacity at the DOJ after learning that he directed a high-ranking state official to shred public records,” Schimel said.
Wall resigned from his job at Corrections in February amid a mushrooming scandal involving alleged inmate abuse at the state’s Lincoln Hills youth prison in Irma. The FBI and state Justice Department are still investigating possible child abuse, sexual assault and misconduct in public office, and whether any civil rights were violated.
Under state law and according to a March 2013 memo from DOJ, Wall had the right to return to his former position as DCI Administrator after he took the DOC secretary job.
“You timely requested and were granted ‘Leave of Absence’ status to protect those rights,” then-Deputy Attorney General Kevin St. John wrote Wall in the memo.
Wall initially returned to his old job but was placed on paid leave “to protect the integrity of the Lincoln Hills investigation,” a DOJ spokeswoman said at the time.
In a Feb. 10 letter to Schimel asking for his old job, Wall said he only accepted the job at Corrections, the state’s largest cabinet agency, “because the law and civil service rules guaranteed my ability to return to my classified civil service position.”
Wall noted he sought the DOJ investigation into Lincoln Hills, that he was not a target, witness or in any way involved, and that the investigation involved staff nine levels below his office.
Wall was to start the new job at a $108,076 annual salary on Feb. 28, but the next day he was reassigned to a deputy division administrator position at the same pay rate effective March 20. He was instructed not to communicate with any DOJ employees except a department lawyer and Deputy Attorney General Andrew Cook.
Wall’s lawyer Dan Bach said Wall plans to file a whistleblower retaliation complaint because his termination commenced after Wall gave a draft copy of his WERC appeal to DOJ. That appeal alleges DOJ violated state law in not letting him keep his former job.
“Although DOJ was very specific that this disciplinary action was focused solely on the letter and not the draft appeal document, certain allegations against Mr. Wall were derived from the positions expressed in his draft appeal,” Bach wrote in a letter to DOJ last week.
Bach provided to the Wisconsin State Journal a copy of the letter, in which he responded to various work rules and policies Wall allegedly violated. The alleged violations included “insubordination,” “unauthorized use of confidential information,” “failure to comply with department policies,” “making false or malicious statements concerning other employees,” and “failure to exercise good judgment.”
Bach disputed the allegations, saying Wall was engaging Zipperer in a personal correspondence.
“He was not speaking to a DOJ superior or making comments that he does not stand behind,” Bach wrote. “The actions he has taken since being told that he would not be reinstated to that position are the direct result of DOJ’s refusal to abide by the law.”
Bach said he would have to consult with Wall before releasing the disciplinary letter. Schimel’s office did not immediately respond to a request for that letter.
State Journal reporter Mark Sommerhauser contributed to this report.
‘(Wall) was not speaking to a DOJ superior or making comments that he does not stand behind.’DAN BACH
Attorney for Ed Wall