The Trempealeau County Board wants Gov. Scott Walker to suspend and initiate an investigation of District Attorney Taavi McMahon, who the board contends committed a felony while in office.
McMahon on Oct. 2 submitted a request to Trempealeau County Circuit Court Judge Rian Radtke requesting a special prosecutor because he was “unable to attend to duties due to a mental health issue or has a mental incapacity that impairs ability to perform duties.”
In the request, McMahon stated that he had submitted an affidavit to the state Department of Administration attesting his condition exists, according to the document.
“We have been able to confirm, from DA McMahon himself, that DA McMahon never submitted the affidavit to the DOA as he represented to Judge Radtke,” according to the board’s Dec. 14 letter to the governor that was released Tuesday.
On Oct. 10, the DOA asked McMahon to complete and return the affidavit, according to e-mails released by the department under the state’s open record law. McMahon rescinded his request for appointment of a special prosecutor the same day, citing his “clean bill of health.”
State law makes it a felony to knowingly give false information to a court official with the intent to influence.
“We believe that DA McMahon violated this statute when he knowingly gave false information to Judge Radtke with the intent to influence Judge Radtke in the performance of his official functions (i.e. the appointment of a special prosecutor),” the letter stated.
Radtke signed the order, which was filed with the clerk of court. A special prosecutor did not act pursuant to the order because the DOA did not agree to fund the appointment because McMahon did not submit the affidavit.
McMahon on Tuesday said he does not believe he told the judge he submitted the affidavit.
“It’s a ridiculous assertion that I’ve committed a crime,” he said.
State statute allows the governor to suspend a district attorney during an investigation to determine if a felony was committed. Walker’s office has not yet decided how it will proceed, spokesman Tom Evenson said.
The county board also believes McMahon violated the state Supreme Court’s attorney ethics code by lying to the judge.
“The board believes that this action by DA McMahon demonstrates a willful disregard for the very laws that DA McMahon has sworn to uphold,” the letter stated, which also said McMahon has damaged the integrity of his office, which could make crime victims reluctant to come forward.
Assistant District Attorney John Sacia has filed “virtually” all cases in the past several months because McMahon is largely absent from the office, according to the board’s letter.
After the Tribune requested from McMahon the volume of cases he declined to prosecute, McMahon in a computer system assigned Sacia’s cases to himself “in an effort to ‘show’ that he is adequately discharging the duties of the district attorney’s office,” the letter stated.
“It’s not true,” McMahon said.
As of late November, Sacia was prosecuting 70 percent of the county’s 166 felony cases and 61 percent of the misdemeanor cases, according to a Tribune review of court records.
“During the process of switching the cases over to himself, DA McMahon sent ADA Sacia to work in the Monroe County District Attorney’s office for two weeks despite no official request from the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office for assistance,” according to the letter.
The district attorney’s office declined to prosecute 41 percent of criminal cases from law enforcement in 2015, 34 percent in 2016 and 26 percent this year through Nov. 22, according to a report provided to the Tribune by McMahon.
Law enforcement leaders say his office declines to prosecute too many cases, often without notification or explanation.
“We’re not throwing stuff to them for the fun of it,” Arcadia Police Chief Diana Anderson said. “Victims are calling and asking questions. Officers are frustrated. It sends a message to the community that offenders can get away with things.”
McMahon’s behavior leaves law enforcement unable to deter crime and left to deal with the same offenders, Osseo Police Chief Bill Prudlick said.
“We take pride in the work we do. I know officers who are extremely meticulous, and to get cases kicked back with no prosecution, it’s tough,” he said. “He’s taking the teeth out of our bite.”
In his five-year tenure, McMahon said he has maintained an open door policy with police.
“I communicate with law enforcement daily,” he said. “I’ve not had anyone from law enforcement come to me and say they lost faith in me.”
Board Chair Dick Miller on behalf of the entire board in a Dec. 5 letter to McMahon asked him to resign by the next day, citing his unwillingness to resolve personnel issues in his office, the board having lost confidence in his abilities to act as district attorney, and “the disruption you are causing to the county and other county departments.”
“Mr. Miller has no authority to ask for my resignation, the people of Trempealeau County elected me to represent them in all criminal proceedings, and that is exactly what I will continue to do with the assistance of my dedicated staff,” McMahon wrote in a statement released on Tuesday.
McMahon in September suspended an employee who refused to attend the funeral of then-Jackson County District Attorney Gerald Fox. She has not returned to the office.
“It is troubling that the county has decided to pay an employee to do nothing for the past three months while our office remains understaffed,” McMahon stated. “This is a waste of taxpayer money and the county is abrogating it’s responsibility to the hard working people of Trempealeau County.”
Another Trempealeau County committee raised concerns about McMahon’s job performance in a letter to the governor in early October.
The county’s Executive and Finance Committee asked for assistance and guidance after McMahon shuttered his office for the funeral and suspended the employee who refused to attend, was “rarely” in the office and was suspected of using county funds to buy a laptop for personal use, according to the letter.
“We believe that he is derelict in his duties,” the letter said.
In a response letter to that committee, McMahon wrote that he is prohibited from discussing personnel issues and maintained the computer is used for state business.
The governor’s staff in October encouraged the county committee to discuss the issues with the county’s attorney.