MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Justice Department improperly demoted a top Internet detective after she questioned a plan to send state agents to guard Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen at the national Republican convention nearly three years ago, a judge ruled Monday.
The agency violated state whistleblower laws when it bumped Joell Schigur out her post as director of the Public Integrity Bureau in May 2008. Agency officials made the move a month after Schigur warned that assigning agents to protect Van Hollen at the convention in St. Paul, Minn., might amount to using state resources for a political activity.
“Had Schigur not made her disclosures of ‘information’ … DOJ would not have taken disciplinary action against her that it did,” Administrative Law Judge Deborah Little Cohn wrote.
The decision clears the way for Schigur to negotiate a number of remedies with the Justice Department, including reinstatement to her old position. If the two sides can’t agree, a judge could call a hearing to decide the next step.
Schigur’s attorney, Peter Fox, declined to comment on exactly what Schigur may seek. DOJ Executive Assistant Steven Means said the agency is reviewing the ruling, including appeal options. The Public Integrity Bureau director position no longer exists, he said. If she is ultimately reinstated she would be assigned to a comparable position as it became available, he said.
Schigur helped develop the department’s Internet Crimes Against Children unit and developed a reputation as a national expert on cyber predators. In 2006 she was promoted to director of the Public Integrity Bureau.
She had to pass a two-year probationary period to earn permanent status in the post. She accumulated sterling job reviews, but with three months left her relationship with her supervisor, Mike Myszewski, soured. They clashed about which agent should handle an Internet predator case, the timing of an Internet safety presentation and Schigur’s decision to allow an agent to work at home, according to the ruling.
In mid-April of 2008, Myszewski announced at a staff meeting that up to half-a-dozen state agents would provide Van Hollen with around-the-clock security at the Republican convention that September.
Schigur sent two emails to Myszewski saying she was worried that using state agents at a political function might be improper. She urged Myszewski to reconsider, but he felt their use would be appropriate since some groups had promised to disrupt the convention.
The agency ultimately decided not to send any agents with Van Hollen after concluding the attorney general wouldn’t be in danger.
About a month later, Myszewski gave Schigur her last probationary review, concluding she clashed often with management and hadn’t earned permanent status. She was demoted to special agent-in-charge and moved out of the agency’s Madison headquarters to a field office, effectively ending her Internet responsibilities, the ruling said.
The judge found Schigur’s demotion stemmed from a mix of legitimate reasons and improper discrimination.
She said Myszewski was genuinely troubled about Schigur challenging his agent assignment but he was threatened by any “hint of disagreement” with him and the administration, which had just promoted him.
But the judge noted it appears agency officials drafted their conclusion that Schigur failed probation just days after she sent her convention security emails.
What’s more, Myszewski stopped communicating with Schigur after the convention dust-up because he knew she was on her way out and he could afford to ignore her, the judge said. Myszewski also said in a deposition his assessment of her was influenced by her convention concerns.
Schigur had challenged her demotion before the state Employment Relations Commission, contending she actually cleared probation early and had a permanent lock on the bureau director’s spot. She pointed out that before their relationship fell apart Myszewski recommended she be allowed off probation in February 2008.
But the commission said no one ever acted on the recommendation and in November 2009 dismissed her claim.