Friday, October 21, 2005

Chvala Prosecution Said to Focus on Use Of State-Owned Equipment

With the trial of former Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala teed up for an Oct. 31 start, the prosecution is readying their case by interviewing witnesses, having them go over statements made more than two years ago and asking them to identify any parts they may now disagree with.

A witness prepped for the case by the Milwaukee office of DA E. Michael McCann says the case centers on the use of state-owned equipment.

"They're focusing more on resources now than the time," said the potential witness. "Time is a lot harder (to prove). You run into a lot of gray area," said the source, citing the use of compensatory, sick and vacation time.

"In the beginning, they cast a wide net, and now they're sorting through information to see what witness they want to use which way to make what point."

The source said the prosecution seems to be building a strong argument, that the attorneys seemed to know the information before questions are even answered.

"I think they probably have enough," said the witness. "Everybody that used to work in the caucus would have to acknowledge they did campaign work while at the office."

The witness characterized the campaign work as being understood by the employees as part of the job, and that it was generally known that it was against the rules.

"I just think that everyone understood, at least I certainly did," said the witness. "I had a cell phone and used it a lot to make campaign calls. There was an understanding it should not have been done on state time."

Despite that, the work was not discouraged, but even encouraged as the work piled up. "It deteriorated to a point where the demands of the job made it impossible not to do campaign work on state time. It was like, 'You're hired to do a job and this is part of the job.'"

Still, the prosecution will be dealing with reluctant witnesses.

"Nobody that's a witness in this case is a willing participant," said the source. "But it was either sign the immunity agreement (and testify) or face looming prosecution."

Chvala appeared in court Monday with attorneys James Olson and Bruce Davey for a pretrial hearing in front of Dane Co. Circuit Court Judge David Flanagan. Milwaukee Co. Assistant DA David Feiss is prosecuting the case. The potential involvement of recently convicted former state Sen. Brian Burke was still in question early today.

An initial appearance was held Thursday in the case involving former Chvala aide Douglas Burnett. Burnett is charged with two misdemeanor counts related to fundraising of the Independent Citizens for Democracy, an organization that raised money for Democratic state Senate candidates. Burnett did not appear at the hearing.

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