Schiek says he has the skill set, experience to run DA’s office
By Richard Moore
of The Lakeland Times
Rhinelander attorney Michael Schiek says he has broad legal experience as well as practice in helping to run an efficient business – a balanced combination he believes is a perfect fit with the Oneida County district attorney’s office.
And that fit is why Schiek, of the Rhinelander law firm O’Melia, Schiek and McEldowney, contends he’s the best candidate for the job of district attorney. The Republican candidate faces Oneida County assistant district attorney Scott Moller in next Tuesday’s general election.
Add in his strong commitment to the community – he is a native of Oneida County – and Schiek says the county will have a strong district attorney who can continue to help make the area an attractive place to live.
“I think that we can continue to make Oneida County a safe place to raise your family,” Schiek told The Lakeland Times in a recent interview. “There’s going to be issues that come up, and there’s no perfect formula for any of this. There’s going to be ups and downs, but I think that I can certainly handle all that and just try to do the best job that I can.”
His experience will serve him well in achieving that goal, he said. He points to his work in the public defender’s office and to his criminal defense work as a private attorney, but, he said, he also has had experience with prosecutions of civil matters and traffic citations (by assisting his colleague in prosecuting cases for the town of Three Lakes), and he has participated in 15 or 16 jury trials, as well as multiple juvenile fact-finding hearings and motion hearings related to what he viewed as unconstitutional violations of a defendant’s rights.
“So, I’ve had all types of experience,” Schiek said, and that includes running a business.
“You know, we’ve got to advertise, we have to get billable hours in, we’ve got to make sure the staff is happy,” he said. “There are six other attorneys involved in the law firm, so there’s a lot of dynamics that go on, even outside of the legal stuff that we do. So, making a business run and making it function and still, obviously, be able to practice myself and do all the other side jobs that we are required to do just to keep that going. So, the experience not only in the law but also with running the business will apply certainly to the district attorney’s office position.”
Schiek says Oneida County has done a good job in pinpointing and prosecuting violent crimes such as domestic abuse, and he says he will continue that tradition.
“To me, there’s a small percentage of what I would, I guess, consider violent crimes,” he says. “The majority of the work that I do, even with my criminal law experience, or criminal defense experience, deals with the stuff that’s in between that. There’s the drug offenses, there’s domestic abuse. I think that Oneida County handles them fairly well. The cases that are considered violent, I think are almost the easier cases to handle, because it’s almost more clear-cut that the person that’s done something like that has a criminal mind – there’s usually a criminal history with that – and it’s something where there’s a victim that’s been injured or greatly affected by that. So, those seem to be the easier cases, and I think Oneida County has done a nice job of kind of separating the real serious cases from the other cases that come through the door.”
Schiek said that, as the county’s top cop, he would pay serious attention to repeat OWI offenders, and he said guidelines exist to help prosecute cases. In negotiating those guidelines, he said, he would keep public safety in the forefront of his mind.
“On OWI cases, there’s minimum mandatory sentencing requirements, and then there’s the maximum penalties,” Schiek said. “So, if somebody comes in, it’s going to be a decision as to whether or not we give you – there’s going to be an offer at some point made to the defense attorney saying, your person came in with a fifth-offense OWI over a period of 10 years or 20 years, if they have this. Here’s what the guidelines say that we are required to sentence you by. The offer that would be made is, you know, we’ll give your guy the minimum if he goes on probation for three years, and, if he screws up on probation, then he comes back, and then he could potentially be sentenced to maximum.”
But Schiek said he didn’t know if he would be offering minimums.
“I think that once you get past two, three, four, five, how many more chances does a person need before they learn their lesson?” he said. “The drunk driving, it puts the entire community at risk. Anybody that’s on the road during that time period that they’re driving could potentially become a victim. That would weigh heavy on my conscience if we didn’t do enough, and they go out the next time and they kill somebody. ... A safe community is what it all boils down to, to keep a safe community.”
Schiek also noted the rise of new types of drugs, prescription medications such as Oxycodone and various types of pain medications.
“I’ve never represented somebody on a bath salt case before, but that’s been in the headlines lately,” he added. “That I see as becoming a problem, that these new drugs are making their way up north. I don’t want that to get out of control, where now we’ve got meth labs, we’ve got, you know, marijuana growers on state forest and things like that, or even private grows.”
Internet crimes have grown, too, he said, especially sexual predators.
“They actually go online and they get involved with other chat rooms, I think, and then those chat rooms trade images and they talk to each other,” Schiek said. “And then those, sometimes, are watched by the police officers or a certain committee that watches those types of crimes, so that’s how that stuff happens, and I think that they’re doing the best they can, but there’s so much out there.”
When engaged in plea negotiations, Schiek says there are multiple perspectives to consider.
“You look at the defendant,” he said. “You look at the victim. You look at how serious the crime is. You look at the criminal history of the defendant. Is there an issue with substance abuse? Is there something that we can offer this person so that that problem will go away? If it’s a substance abuse problem, give them an opportunity to go to treatment, fix themselves so that they can become a productive member of society Once we take that problem away from them, then they can carry on with a normal life.”
Then, too, there’s the strength of the case to consider.
“On the other hand, I have to have enough of a case to prove, what I think I could prove, in a trial beyond a reasonable doubt to 12 people, and so I need to have evidence, and that can come in the form of witness statements, it can come in the form of photographs, surveillance tapes,” Schiek said. “There’s scientific evidence with the DNA and the actual, if there’s a weapon used, something like that. So all of that makes a strong case for a DA. And then we have leverage on a client, or on the defendant, and say, you know, we’ve got a solid case.”
It’s a balancing system, Schiek said – protect the victims, be fair to the defendants. The solution is not to just throw everybody in jail; usually, he said, everybody can get close to an agreement by taking all of the factors into consideration.
“Each case is different,” he said. “If you take the time to go through all the, that check list, and then talk to their defense counsel and find out if there’s a common way to (go), rather than go to trial.... It’s not to make the defendant get whatever he wants or anything like that, but it’s a discussion between attorneys trying to figure out the best way to resolve the situation, and normally you can come up with a resolution.”
Holding police accountable
Schiek said he would hold law enforcement to the highest standards and would not treat them differently from other people.
“Everybody has constitutional rights, and they cannot be violated,” he said. “The officers don’t have the right to treat anybody the way that they want to. They can’t. They’re not supposed to. You don’t search without search warrants, or arrest without arrest warrants, things like that. So, they’re limited by the law.”
The public needs to trust the officers, he said, and to know that police are not going to violate their civil rights.
“So, if a referral comes in and I think that there’s a blatant disregard for a constitutional right, I might not prosecute the case,” Schiek said. “Its not fair to let an officer make an arrest and say, you know, we’ll let the attorneys work this out. I think that happens, and I guess I’m talking about questionable situations. … Every police report I get, I read the fine print within that, and if I don’t like what the officers did, I bring a motion to suppress, because there was an unconstitutional, either a search or a violation of some constitutional right.”
Schiek also said he would not hesitate to prosecute officers who break the law.
“It doesn’t make any difference to me if somebody wears a badge or if they don’t,” he said. “If an officer violates the law, I would expect that a referral should come over my desk. And if a referral comes over my desk, and I think that there’s enough there to charge, then absolutely.”
On the question of open records, Schiek said he would respond in timely fashion to complaints of alleged violations. The current district attorney’s office has not been responding within the state attorney general’s advised timeline of 10-business days after a complaint (since the departure of Michael Bloom, who did respond in timely fashion).
“I would respond,” Schiek said. “I don’t know what the turnaround time would be. ... If there’s a policy in place that was working with Mr. Bloom, then maybe I could adopt that policy and get back to you as soon as I can. I don’t know what the turnaround time would be .... without the experience of being in there and knowing how much stuff comes across your desk but... I would think it would be within a couple of weeks at the longest.”
As he did in an earlier interview, Schiek said he was surprised to learn that the district attorney’s position is a partisan one.
“I don’t know why the district attorney’s office is a partisan position,” he said. “It doesn’t really make any sense to me, to be honest with you. It’s not going to make any difference to me if somebody commits a crime and they’re Democrat, Republican, Independent, whatever their party affiliation is. A case comes across my desk as an individual, and it’ll be prosecuted that way. To me, the fact that I have to pick a party just doesn’t make any sense to me, and I don’t know why they make me do it.”
And what about political activism on the part of a district attorney and his or her staff, such as occurred in the Milwaukee district attorney’s office, in which various staff members investigating former staff members of Scott Walker actively supported Walker’s recall?
“Well, I can’t speak for other candidates,” Schiek said. “I know that in running this campaign – I have never done this before – what I try to do is just go out and meet as many people as I can. I’m running as a Republican. I don’t know if what other people are doing is going to affect the vote that I’m going to receive. I hope it doesn’t. I hope that they look at me and look at my background, and voters make an informed decision on who I am and what I am hopefully going to bring to Oneida County.”
Schiek said he had tried to keep the campaign very clean.
“I respect Mr. Moller,” he said. “I think he does a fine job. There’s nothing bad I can say about him. I’m just trying to get out and go to town meetings. I go to the local events. I just do as much as I possibly can to be out in the public, meet people, answer questions, and that’s the way I’ve seen fit to run this campaign. It’s been my way. So, to me that’s important to run it clean because it reflects upon the type of district attorney I could be, that it’s going to be out in the open.”
Schiek said he was not trying to pull any punches.
“I’m not trying to, you know, muddy any waters or anything like that,” he said. “I’m just trying to be out there and be accessible to people. If they have questions, they can call me. So, that’s the way I’ve run my campaign. I guess I can’t speak to what other people are doing.”
Assistant DA Moller: My entire
career focus is prosecution
By Richard Moore
of The Lakeland Times
Oneida County assistant district attorney Scott Moller says he has spent virtually his entire career as a prosecutor, and it hasn’t been by accident.
It’s because it’s exactly what he wants to do, and he says he’s geared his education and training toward doing it right. And that’s why the Democratic candidate for Oneida County district attorney feels voters should vote for him on Election Day, Nov. 6.
“It does come down to experience, training, and commitment,” Moller told The Lakeland Times in a recent interview. “With regard to experience, I have 14 years of experience doing the same job that I’m seeking. As an assistant district attorney, I do the same work that a district attorney does. That’s the work I’ve been doing for 14 years. That’s the work I’m doing now in the Oneida County DA’s office along with the Langlade County DA’s office (Moller serves as part-time assistant DA in both, and has been an assistant DA in St. Croix County), so I think I’m well qualified in terms of experience.”
Moller has also served as a special prosecutor across the state, and, he said, in each of his 14 years of work he has received prosecutor-specific training from the state of Wisconsin Department of Justice and elsewhere.
“I’ve received training from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the U.S. Department of Justice, a number of other agencies that provide prosecutor-specific training about issues that are important to prosecution to prosecutors. Synthetic drugs and online child exploitation are a couple of examples, and identity theft is another.”
Moller has also three times attended the U.S. Department of Justice prosecutor training facility in Columbia, S.C., a facility largely for federal prosecutors, he says.
In addition, he is a state of Wisconsin certified law enforcement instructor.
“I teach police officers,” Moller said. “I teach police-officer candidates at Nicolet College in Rhinelander. I think I’m well qualified in terms of training.”
As important as the experience and training are, he says his commitment is equally valuable.
“The job of a district attorney is an important job,” Moller said. “It’s important to crime victims. It’s important to the public, the general public. And it’s important to me, personally. As a result, I have devoted virtually my entire legal career to this job, to being a prosecutor, and I will continue to do so. I think it’s important that we have a prosecutor, we have a district attorney in this county who is committed to seeking justice and who is committed to being an effective prosecutor, which is what I’ve spent virtually my entire career doing.”
After the Nov. 6 election, Moller said, with national elections looming, there are likely to be many changes, but Oneida County voters can count on one thing not to change.
“The next day, two weeks later, six months later, a year later, I’ll be a prosecutor,” he said. “That’s my career. That’s what I’m here for. That’s what I’ve been doing virtually since I got out of law school and also even when I was in law school, as an intern in the Oneida County DA’s office, and that’s what I’ll be doing six months down the road, and a year down the road. So, I hope that resonates with the public. I hope that they see that I mean it when I say that I’m seeking justice and I’m doing my best to do this, to be an effective district attorney.”
While Moller believes such issues as violent crime, repeat drunken driving, Internet crimes and identity theft present ongoing challenges, he says he is expecially concerned about a new and growing problem: synthetic drugs.
“I think it’s extremely significant,” Moller said. “They also call them designer drugs. For example, methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) is one of them. There’s a whole range of them, and here’s one of the issues. It changes. Because we have companies that are producing this garbage. That’s one of the things that I think is particularly frightening, is that we do have actual companies devoted to this, probably sitting down in an office something like this talking about…well, what can we do? Hiring chemists, changing the chemistry, because, what they’re doing is, they’re selling this stuff as bath salts or as plant food or as something that – it’s labeled ‘not for human consumption,’ knowing full well that they’re selling it for human consumption. Typically selling it over the Internet and in packaging that looks innocuous.”
By altering the chemistry slightly, chemists can get around the laws that define something as illegal, and the innocuous appearance makes it all the more frightening, Moller said.
“It does look innocuous, and that’s scary for a couple of reasons,” he said. “One is, if you’re say, for example, a parent, and you see a package of Ivory Wave bath powder in your teenager’s bedroom, it might look a little weird, but it’s not going to look like drugs.”
If that’s not scary enough, view the issue from a teenager’s perspective, he said.
“Somebody says, hey, you don’t have to worry about this stuff, it’s legal,” Moller said. “They say, it’s not against the law. If it was that dangerous, it would be against the law. I think that’s particularly frightening... I think it’s dangerous because the end user can be duped into thinking…well, it’s not that bad, it’s not against the law.”
The problem is, Moller said, it’s not against the law because we haven’t had a chance to outlaw it yet, because they just came up with the chemical.
“You know, it takes a while for the wheels of justice to move, and we get the legislation in place, and we get it added to the schedule, so it’s against the law now,” he said. “Then they change the chemistry and they keep selling it. That’s dangerous.”
Every district attorney engages in plea bargaining as a way of legal life, and every prosecutor has his or her way of approaching it. Moller said his starting point is to recognize that every case is different.
“We have a different set of witnesses, a different set of victims,” he said. “We have different crimes, a different criminal history for the criminal defendant that we’re dealing with. It all comes back to, we’re trying to do justice. We’re trying to do something that holds the defendant responsible for his or her actions. We’re trying to do something that doesn’t unduly depreciate the seriousness of the offense so that we don’t just have specific deterrents so that he doesn’t do it again, or she doesn’t do it again, but people in the community know they better not do that.”
So Moller said he looks for general deterrents, but he also said he is looking to protect the community.
“It’s going to vary case by case,” he said. “... There are tools that we can use, and we’re certainly not afraid to use them to proceed if we think the case needs to proceed on a certain…a conviction to a certain charge, for example, and the defendant won’t agree to it.”
However, Moller said there is also value in doing things short of taking something to trial, and that is especially true in domestic abuse cases, he said.
“People often times commit crimes against people that they know,” he said. “Sometimes these relationships, these defendant/victim relationships, extend past the criminal litigation. And what we want to do, and again, domestic abuse sometimes being that situation, what we want to do is, we want peace after this is done. We want to improve the situation, not make it worse. So, we might have to say, ‘Look, what we really want to do is, we want this guy to go to anger management, we want him to get an AODA, alcohol or other drug assessment, and follow through.’ I might think as a prosecutor that the guy should probably go to jail for what he did, but sometimes in a particular case, I might say, ‘He’s running his own business, let’s say as a mechanic or whatever, and if he gets put in jail, that business is going to shut down, and then what are they going to do?’ So we might be able to have a plea agreement whereby say, for example, the defendant enters into a deferred entry of judgment on a major charge and gets put on probation on a lesser charge.”
The bottom line, Moller said, plea agreements can be valuable, but not every time.
“There are cases where I’m going to say, ‘Hey, I’m sorry, I realize that you’re trying to recant, but this is important and we see a history here, and we’ve got to put a stop to it.’ But there are cases where it can be valuable.”
Holding police accountable
Moller said he would not pursue a charge just because police wanted a particular charge.
“My job as a district attorney, my job as an assistant district attorney is to seek justice,” Moller said. “I mean that from the bottom of my heart. If I don’t have a case that’s worthy of prosecuting, I don’t prosecute it. And if I see a charge that should be dismissed, I’ll be the first one to dismiss it, and I’ll tell that to anybody, and I have told that to anybody. We’re not looking to tally up convictions, as many as we can get. Our job is to see that we do the right thing all the time.”
Moller says, for the most part, police agree with his line of thinking.
“My experience with law enforcement, which is extensive, has been, I’ve found that police officers, by and large, I mean extremely by and large, are on the same page with that,” he said. “I’ve had very positive experiences with law enforcement over the years.”
Moller said he would treat an open-records violation just like any other violation of law, and he said he would work to implement a system whereby open-records complaints were dealt with in a timely fashion.
Moller recalled his arrival in St. Croix County when he worked on felony child-support cases, and child-support enforcement workers wanted faster action on those matters. But, he said, when he looked at the case referrals they submitted, he could not make heads or tails of them.
“And here’s what realistically happens,” Moller said. “Like I say, I’m a person. I’m doing my best, but I’ve got to be honest with you, if I’ve got a disorderly conduct here, which is much simpler for me to understand – somebody was swearing and shouting and pushing people around – and I can charge that out and put it into the Out Box and get that case moving, and I’ve got your case that I can’t make heads or tails of, yours is probably going to go to the bottom of the stack while I get these other ones out.”
In St. Croix County, Moller’s solution was to come up with a criminal complaint form that called for the information he needed to get cases moving along.
“So I made a form, a two-part form, one part for them, one part for our complaint, and it was matching data so it would fill in the fields at that point,” Moller said. “Later I got it so it would just fill in fields, but at that point, I said, ‘This is going to go to my secretary, this is going to go to you. I want all these things filled in. If you fill all these in, I’ll take a quick look at it, review it, and if it looks fine, I’ll give it to my secretary and say…can you do the complaint? Fill in these blanks.’ They did, and child support went from the bottom of the stack to the top of the stack, and I never got complaints about them after that.”
Moller said an open-records complaint form might be worth a try in Oneida County. Former DA Michael Bloom in fact had a form he asked this newspaper to fill out, but the current office has abandoned its use.
Moller said he does not believe partisan politics has any place in the district attorney’s office.
“In my experience, I haven’t seen it play any role in the district attorney’s office,” he said. “Frankly, I really have to say the partisan nature of the office is very unusual. It has nothing to do with it. We don’t set policy. We don’t have anything to do with partisan politics.”
Instead, Moller compared himself and other district attorneys to police officers.
“My job is to enforce the law,” he said. “That’s it. To enforce the law and to seek justice and to do the right thing and to hold defendants responsible, try to protect crime victims and help them out and try to protect the community. And that has nothing to do with whether I’m a Republican or a Democrat or what have you. It’s absolutely unrelated to our work, and I think that activist politics has no place in the district attorney’s office.”
Richard Moore may be reached at email@example.com