MADISON, Wisconsin — Democratic attorney general candidate Susan Happ's campaign shifted into damage control mode Friday, fending off claims from a sexual assault victim who says Happ let her alleged attacker off too easily because he bought Happ's house.
Happ, who serves as Jefferson County district attorney, faces Waukesha County Republican District Attorney Brad Schimel, in the Nov. 4 election. The winner will replace Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who's decided not to seek re-election, as head of the state Department of Justice.
A Marquette University Law School poll two weeks ago showed Happ leading Schimel. Republicans and their allies have been trying to dirty her up, digging through her cases for anything that paints her as soft on crime.
The conservative group Media Trackers last week uncovered documents that show Happ's office in March agreed to defer prosecuting Daniel J. Reynolds for allegedly sexually assaulting a teenage girl years earlier if he agreed to monitoring and evaluations. Records Media Trackers obtained showed Reynolds finished buying Happ's house for $180,000 in December 2012, five months before being charged.
WKOW-TV reported Thursday that Reynolds' accuser has submitted a complaint to the state Office of Lawyer Regulation saying Happ's relationship with Reynolds benefited her financially and amounted to a conflict of interest. She said she wanted Reynolds to at least be placed on probation, register as a sex offender and pay for her counseling.
Happ's office treated her poorly, ignoring her requests for updates, she added. After Media Trackers' findings went public, she said, the county's victim witness coordinator, Laurie Anderson, told her not to speak to anyone.
Anderson didn't immediately return messages late Friday afternoon.
Office of Lawyer Regulation Director Keith Sellen refused to confirm whether a complaint had been filed against Happ. The woman didn't immediately return a voicemail message Friday afternoon. The Associated Press is not naming her because she's a sexual assault victim.
Schimel campaign consultant Darrin Schmitz had no immediate comment on the complaint. Other Republicans went on the attack. Joe Fadness, executive director of the state GOP, said Happ doesn't care about crime victims. State Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, accused Happ of re-victimizing the woman.
"I'm outraged they would bully this woman," Vukmir said.
Happ's campaign manager, Josh Lease, insisted Happ handled the case properly by handing it off to an assistant. He pointed to a state Supreme Court rule that says one government attorney's conflict of interest doesn't carry over to others in the same agency.
In a conference call with reporters, former Democratic Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager said it's not unusual for prosecutors to wall themselves off from cases by handing them to assistants.
Lautenschlager also questioned the timing of the complaint, noting Happ's office reached the deal with Reynolds in March, and the woman didn't fill out the complaint until Sept. 5.
"To use a victim in order to make an election ploy of this sort is dipping lower than we've mostly seen in a state like Wisconsin before," Lautenschalger said.
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