By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Department of Justice officials didn’t violate whistleblower laws when they demoted a top Internet detective after she raised concerns about using state agents to protect the attorney general at a political convention, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
Whistleblower protections didn’t apply to Joell Schigur because she voiced an opinion rather than disclosing hard information about improper activity, the court ruled in a 3-2 decision.
“We conclude that an opinion alone, as to the lawfulness or appropriateness of government activity, is not ‘information’ as that term is defined in (state law),” Justice Annette Ziegler wrote for the majority.
Schigur’s attorney, Peter Fox, didn’t immediately respond to a voicemail left at his office on Wednesday morning.
Schigur helped develop the DOJ’s Internet Crimes Against Children unit and built a national reputation as an expert on cyber predators. The agency promoted her to director of its Public Integrity Bureau in 2006.
According to court documents, Schigur’s superiors told her in April 2008 about a plan to send state agents to protect then-Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen around the clock at the national Republican convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. A few days later Schigur sent an email to them warning that she believed using state resources at a political convention might violate state law and state Office of Employment Relations regulations.
Mike Myszewski, then-administrator of the DOJ’s Division of Criminal Investigation, wrote back that he didn’t think the assignment amounted to political activity. A month later agency officials demoted Schigur to special agent-in-charge.
The agency ultimately decided not to send any agents with Van Hollen after concluding he wouldn’t be in danger.
An administrative law judge ruled in 2011 that the DOJ violated the whistleblower protection laws. A Madison judge reversed that finding, however, saying Schigur didn’t divulge any actual information, a prerequisite for whistleblower protection. The 4th District Court of Appeals agreed in a decision released in February.
Ziegler wrote that the state’s whistleblower laws cover employees who divulge information the employee believes shows inappropriate activity. They don’t extend to employee statements that offer opinions or criticism. Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Shirley Abrahamson, the court’s liberal-leaning minority, dissented. Bradley wrote that the whistleblower statutes should be interpreted broadly.