A third candidate, who was publicly reprimanded by the Supreme Court of Wisconsin two months ago, has thrown his name in the mix for city attorney.
Christopher Wiesmueller, who runs The Wiesmueller Law Firm with his wife, Corrine, in Waukesha, has filed nomination papers with the clerk-treasurer's office.
He joins local attorney Brian Running and former Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Rick Congdon in the race. The winner will replace longtime city attorney Curt Meitz, who is stepping down after 28 years.
The primary, which will eliminate one candidate, is Feb. 18. The general election is April 1.
Wiesmueller, who has operated the Waukesha firm since 2009 and has handled more than 500 cases in state court in addition to municipal and federal cases, was recently reprimanded for violating Supreme Court Rules in an investigation against a Milwaukee County employee in 2010.
"I think the gist of it was I overly aggressively defended my client and I think that when you aggressively defend people it makes sense that occasionally penalties are thrown at you. In this case, it was a reprimand," said Wiesmueller, who earned his law degree from Oklahoma City University in 2007 and holds a political science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
According to a public document filed by the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, Wiesmueller destroyed evidence of a client who was under investigation for allegations of performing political work while being paid to do her government job as an employee in the Milwaukee County Executive's Office, conduct punishable as a felony.
After the allegations were publicized, Wiesmueller emailed the employee, whom he knew from his prior service for the Republican Party of Milwaukee County and offered to represent the employee pro bono. During a meeting, Wiesmueller advised the client to remove all evidence related to her political activity from her computer and offered to assist her with the removal of evidence from her computer, the document notes.
With her laptop at his office, Wiesmueller deleted the files from the computer and downloaded software to "wipe" the information from the computer, the public reprimand document states.
Aware of misconduct
The document said Wiesmueller saved copies of the documents on his office computer and on a USB flash drive he gave to the client when he returned the laptop. The document said Wiesmueller admitted to the Office of Lawyer Regulation he was aware at the time of the deletion the files and emails "likely had potential evidentiary value" and that a prosecutor would be interested in the information.
"I do not believe my client committed a crime," Wiesmueller said last week. "She came in here and presented (her Internet meanderings) and after discussing it with her I did not feel she committed a crime and frankly it was not good for her or her employer to have that information in the public domain. But under all circumstances I don't think I destroyed evidence of a crime."
Wiesmueller later met with the prosecutor and suggested charging misdemeanors but no felonies (Wiesmueller didn't discuss this offer with his client before the meeting with the prosecutor). This was a violation of a Supreme Court Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys.
"I think that is the most unfair of all the allegations," Wiesmueller said. "If someone tells you that they will charge your client with multiple felonies you're natural reaction isn't to say 'let me call you back.' There was no offer on the table and no final resolution. That notion is really ridiculous."
In November 2011, Wiesmueller and his client met with the prosecutor and his investigator for an interview relating to an ongoing John Doe investigation of funds misappropriated from a program created to honor veterans, the document states. When the interview turned to the client's political fundraising activities during her regular work hours, the prosecutor informed the client that emails had been deleted from her account and files removed from her computer.
Talking to investigator
Wiesmueller said he advised her to do so but didn't admit to deleting them. A search warrant was then conducted for Wiesmueller's law office. Wiesmueller provided the investigator with copies of the material he copied from his client's computer but didn't admit his role in deleting the information.
After ending his representation with the client, the woman and her successor counsel met with the prosecutor and his investigator and told them Wiesmueller was the one who removed the evidence from the computer.
In exchange of this information, the client was offered immunity from prosecution. She later entered a plea agreement and the prosecutor charged her with two misdemeanor counts of political solicitation by a public employee.
Admitting his involvement
Meanwhile, because the alleged crime was committed at Wiesmueller's office, the prosecutor referred the case to the Waukesha County District Attorney's Office. The DA's Office agreed to forgo filing criminal charges against Wiesmueller provided he made a thorough and complete report to the Office of Lawyer Regulation.
Wiesmueller did so in July 2012 and did not incur any criminal charges.
"He chose not to charge but if I felt a basis to continue I certainly could have," Wiesmueller said. "I considered fighting it, but I wasn't willing to enter that debate with my law license on the line."
When asked if he feels the reprimand will hurt him in the election, Wiesmueller said "you're talking about a significantly small fraction of cases I've been a part of over the past six years."
Evidence shows violations
Among the violations, the public reprimand states that "by counseling his client to delete evidence from her computer and by removing files that he knew had potential evidentiary value from the client's computer and taking steps to prevent the retrieval of those files, Wiesmueller unlawfully obstructed the state's access to evidence and unlawfully concealed evidence."
The public reprimand, filed Nov. 1, 2013, also states that "for making statements to the District Attorney's office that implied his client alone removed evidence from the client's computer, when in fact it was Wiesmueller who had removed the evidence, Wiesmueller engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation." This is a violation of misconduct in the Supreme Court Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys.
"I think the situation as far as the fraud issue is whether the full truth is considered to be a misstatement," Wiesmueller said. "As a criminal defense attorney there's a very fine line of not being truthful vs. literal truth."
Wiesmueller received a private reprimand in October 2012 for neglect and failure to communicate with a client he was representing on appeal.
"The reprimand was more of a closing chapter than a beginning chapter for me," Wiesmueller said. "So for me, it's behind me."
He added this chapter shows two things about him.
"You don't have to question my political allegiance," Wiesmueller said. "Also, part of the job of being a city attorney is advising city officials where the line is and not to cross it in relation to the city code of ethics and if elected I would be hypervigilant to those issues because of this experience."
Ready for public service
Wiesmueller's other work-related experience includes interning with the City of Milwaukee as a legislative assistant where he worked with two aldermen and the city clerk.
"I'd always hoped to go into public service but there weren't a lot of jobs after I graduated law school," Wiesmueller said. "I think I'd transition well as I'm in court almost daily and while I don't practice a lot of civil law that would be a nice change of pace."
And at only 32 years old, Wiesmueller would like to carve out a similar path as Meitz.
"I think I'm at a different place than those two," Wiesmueller said of Running and Congdon. "I'm looking at making it my primary career and in both of their cases they've already had successful careers. That's not to say my current firm isn't successful, but I'm just in the early stages of building a career and could see the city attorney position be long term for me."
However, he knows his past — including the bad — will come up in advance to the primary.
"I'm ready," Wiesmueller said. "Truthfully, it's better that this gets out now. I'm fully prepared to discuss it during the campaign."