MADISON (WKOW) -- In an account eerily similar to previous claims of prosecutorial excess by former Assistant Dane County District Attorney Mike Verveer, a former UW-Madison student claimed to WKOW 27 News Verveer made an unsolicited telephone call to him when the man was a criminal defendant, and may have tainted a prosecution.
"That's what really bothered me about it, the fact that he could have possibly been tampering with my case," UW-Madison graduate Danny McCarthy, 24, told WKOW27 News.
"The whole premise of this story seems to be that the victim in this case was a friend of mine, so I wanted him to get 'full justice' by somehow sticking it to the defendant," Verveer told WKOW27 News in an interview.
"That's just absolutely ludicrous."
McCarthy was charged in Dane County court with misdemeanor battery for allegedly punching another man, Joseph Goldfine in a bar fight June 10, 2007. Goldfine was not seriously hurt.
McCarthy retained former Dane County District Attorney Brian Brophy to defend him. Yet before McCarthy's initial appearance in court, McCarthy told WKOW 27 News Verveer called him out-of-the-blue on McCarthy's cell phone.
"I had not talked to him before that phone call," McCarthy said. "It seemed a little odd."
In a March 2009 Wisconsin State Journal story, the newspaper reported on the anonymous claims of two young men who stated Verveer had called them and offered advice on their criminal cases. The newspaper reported Verveer met with one of the defendants in a bar, even though he was nineteen. Verveer said he did nothing inappropriate.
Verveer, who has represented a downtown aldermanic district as a Madison city council member for nearly two decades, took a leave of absence as an assistant district attorney in October 2008. Officials announced Verveer's conduct as a prosecutor was under investigation by the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Verveer did not return to his prosecutor's job.
WKOW 27 News has yet to receive a response to its request for documents and other material in connection to the Justice Department's investigation of Verveer. The Wisconsin State Journal reported in March its similar request to the justice department was denied because the Verveer investigation was ongoing.
Two Madison criminal defense attorneys, who spoke to WKOW 27 News on the condition of anonymity said Verveer had made phone calls to their clients out-of-the-blue and outside of their presence. One of the attorneys said Verveer's phone call to his client was placed at 1 a.m.
Verveer has not responded to WKOW 27 on those specific claims.
But Verveer said any calls he made were appropriate.
"I would contact defendants by phone in the normal course of my duties, but it was always related to specific issues related to scheduling, warrants and the like."
McCarthy said Verveer discussed court scheduling during the phone call, but also predicted a tentative conviction was likely with referral to a first offender's program and frowned on McCarthy's retention of Brophy.
"He told me, I don't need an attorney."
"He referenced the attorney that I hired, 'He's so expensive, it's not going to be worth it' kind of thing, which was upsetting for me."
Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Vice President Michael Witt of Jefferson said rules on attorney conduct specifically address communication with someone who has counsel.
"If you start talking to someone without realizing they have an attorney, the second they tell you they have a lawyer, you have to say, 'I'm sorry, this conversation is over.' "
Witt said dissuading someone from retaining counsel would be a glaring act.
"I think that is certainly something that in my experience, you would not see a prosecutor doing."
Verveer told WKOW 27 News he has no memory of calling McCarthy.
But Verveer said he is aware of the ethical obligation not to interfere with the attorney-client relationship.
"I certainly did not call him out-of-the-blue and say, 'Fire your attorney.' "
Brophy declined comment to WKOW 27 News.
In a plea bargain, McCarthy was not referred to the first offender's program, which would have exposed McCarthy to a potential criminal conviction in the event of violation of program rules, but instead McCarthy's case was reduced to a civil forfeiture.
McCarthy said he was frustrated with the outcome because he maintained Goldfine provoked him by making an unwanted advance on McCarthy's girlfriend, and because Verveer curiously contacted him and discouraged him from having an attorney.
Goldfine told WKOW 27 the case was open and shut. "He hit me out of nowhere."
But a short time after McCarthy's case was resolved, McCarthy told WKOW 27 News he encountered Verveer at bar time at Pizza Di Roma on State Street.
"Sitting in one of the booths was Mike Verveer and Goldfine, Joseph Goldfine."
"It seemed very strange that he would advise me to not retain an attorney, and here Verveer is sitting with the person I had gotten into the confrontation with."
"If he says he saw me with the guy that he vividly remembers as the victim, he probably did because I do know the person," Verveer told WKOW 27 News.
"But what I'm telling you, I'm not friends with the guy. He's an acquaintance of mine."
Goldfine said he has worked as a bartender at downtown venues and knows Verveer only in passing.
McCarthy said the two men left in a car together. Neither Verveer nor Goldfine disputed the possibility, but argued it was no indication of anything more than an acquaintance.
VERVEER'S PAST HELP FOR VICTIM
Less than a year before McCarthy's clash with Goldfine in the bar, UW Police cited Goldfine for Assaultive Behavior in connection with a bar time disturbance outside Camp Randall stadium.
Police reports show two pedestrians were hit by paint ball pellets being fired from the direction of Goldfine's apartment building.
Goldfine denied any knowledge of the paint balls, but said he suspected the men had knocked over his moped and chased after them.
Reports state one of them had welts from paint balls, and both men denied touching the moped.
According to reports, Camp Randall staff person Kay Coleman tried to intervene after Goldfine had caught up to one of the men.
"Coleman stated she observed Goldfine clutching (victim's) shirt directly below his neck, and then pushed him to the ground and hitting him."
"Coleman said in her attempt to break up the altercation, Goldfine then struck her on the arm and shoved her."
Goldfine disputed he acted that aggressively to WKOW27 News and referred to his citation as "some crappy ticket."
Records show Goldfine's case prosecutor was Verveer.
Goldfine said in connection with a court appearance, he showed Verveer photos of his moped on the ground and convinced Verveer of his innocence.
Verveer said he has no memory of the case, even though the stipulation and order of dismissal bear his signature.
When WKOW 27 News asked Verveer if he considered removing himself from any role in McCarthy's prosecution after having dismissed Goldfine's case, Verveer maintained it was not necessary.
"I don't know who Mr. Goldfine is by name, I recognize him by face."
"If I saw a file that I'm doing the initial appearance on and I would see the name that I would consider, 'I'm a friend of, is close to,' I don't handle that case."
Witt said it is standard practice for officials in a district attorney's office to assess relationships between prosecutors and parties in a case for the potential for any conflict of interest or appearance of impropriety.
Witt said while friendships almost always rule out a prosecutor from a case, so can a prosecutor's mere acquaintance with someone central to a criminal case.
"It should still be assigned to a prosecutor who has no relationship with that victim."
Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard declined any comment on his former subordinate attorney, and said he referred questions about Verveer's alleged conduct to the Attorney General.
Verveer professed ignorance of the ongoing state justice department probe into his activities as a prosecutor, save notifications from reporters.
"I don't know anything about it, I haven't heard anything from them."
But a DOJ official told WKOW 27 News Verveer was asked for an interview, but declined through an attorney.
McCarthy. who lives in Chicago, said his lone experience as a student with Wisconsin's criminal justice system ended up shaking his confidence in due process as a result of Verveer's actions.
Inside Scoop blog - Mike Verveer's contradictions: http://addins.wkow.com/blogs/scoop/