By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The state Department of Justice quietly fired the Madison crime lab manager last summer for what agency officials called an unsatisfactory performance, citing instances of failing to address staff performance issues, misstating policies and struggling to come up with a plan to process DNA samples taken at arrest.
Discipline letters that The Associated Press obtained through an open records request show then-Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s administration terminated lab manager Amy Lautenbach on July 1. Kevin St. John, Van Hollen’s deputy attorney general, called Lautenbach’s performance “unacceptable” in a letter. The agency didn’t publicly announce the firing.
Lautenbach told the AP in a telephone interview Thursday that she was targeted after complaining about her supervisor mocking “Coexist” bumper stickers.
“I’m very proud of the work I did for the state of Wisconsin,” she said. “The politicians do the politicking. They don’t care about the lab or doing the job.”
Van Hollen, a Republican, did not run for re-election this past November. Former Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel, also a Republican, ultimately won and took over as attorney general in January. DOJ spokeswoman Anne Schwartz could not immediately address detailed questions about Lautenbach’s firing, including whether her performance affected any criminal cases. Schwartz said she would work to release Lautenbach’s personnel file.
“It is irresponsible to run this story without having viewed the personnel file, which would provide a more complete and balanced picture,” Schwartz said.
Lautenbach provided AP with a copy of her performance evaluation from May 2014, which said she had failed to address an employee’s “significant performance and quality issues that had the potential to adversely affect the integrity of the lab,” creating a tense work environment. The evaluation also noted she misstated policy to her subordinates and spoke negatively about Van Hollen’s administration.
Lautenbach also failed to explain a new DNA policy to her subordinates and never showed that she ensured it was implemented, forcing her supervisors to do it themselves, the evaluation said.
Asked for a plan on how to best use 18 new analysts to deal with an anticipated influx of tens of thousands of samples as a result of Wisconsin’s new law requiring DNA submission at arrest, she turned over a chart. Her supervisors said they didn’t consider that a plan.
She had about two weeks to submit another plan, but waited until the Friday before it was due to ask her staff to put one together. The staffers had to work through the weekend to have it ready by the Monday deadline, according to the evaluation.
“Your inability to perform as the Laboratory Manager places the integrity and reputation of the DOJ at risk,” St. John wrote in the termination letter. “Your inadequate performance and misconduct leaves the department no reasonable options short of terminating your employment.”
It’s unclear whether Lautenbach’s alleged mismanagement resulted in delays in testing evidence; neither the termination letter nor the evaluation makes any mention of her performance affecting any specific criminal cases. The evaluation stated, however, that she needed to continue to monitor cases in which evidence had been waiting for DNA tests for more than 60 days.
In a written response to the evaluation, Lautenbach said its contents were a surprise and accused the administration of moving the lab away from objective science.
Lautenbach told the AP her problems began when she complained to a supervisor about a comment Brian O’Keefe, administrator of the DOJ’s Law Enforcement Services Bureau, which oversees DOJ’s crime labs, made during an April 2014 meeting.
Lautenbach claimed O’Keefe said that DOJ should issue bumper stickers saying they shoot people who coexist, a play on a bumper sticker that says the world’s religions should coexist. She mentioned the remark briefly in her response to her evaluation.
After she complained, she said her supervisors stopped communicating with her, making it impossible to relay information to her staff. She also said her superiors were upset with her because she had to leave work at 6 p.m. to pick up her son every day and ridiculed her suggestion to include a room for nursing mothers as part of the lab’s $5 million renovation.
St. John didn’t return a voicemail message. The DOJ’s Schwartz didn’t respond to a request to speak with O’Keefe. The administrator did not immediately respond to a direct email seeking comment. Follow @trichmond1