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Records show former Waushara County D.A. was paid despite not showing up for work for four months

Published: Dec. 8, 2020 at 6:07 PM CST
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WAUSHARA COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - We are getting a lot more answers about the M.I.A. D.A. in Waushara County.

In a First Alert Investigation in late October, we showed you the concerns and questions raised by viewers after Waushara County District Attorney Laura Waite hadn’t shown up for work since the end of June.

She lost the election in November, and we’ve learned she resigned days later.

RELATED: Voters elect new district attorney to replace M.I.A. D.A. in Waushara County

Through open records requests that were returned to Action 2 News, we are learning a lot of new information about what unfolded in the months prior to the election.

We found out Waite is under investigation by the Office of Lawyer Regulation.

We also learned the answer to a big question viewers have been asking us.

“Was Waite being paid for the more than four months she didn’t show up to work as the Waushara County DA?”

We found out she was.

Time sheets and work logs we received through an open records request to the state prosecutor’s office show dozens of entries, with eight hours of work recorded each business day from April 27th through November 6th, three days after the general election.

In April, Governor Tony Evers appointed Waite to the role of Waushara County District Attorney, and in a letter obtained my Action 2 News, he wrote Waite would receive an annual salary of $100,122.

Along with those records, the Department of Administration wrote to Action 2 News that state statute ‘allows district attorney’s to take vacation without loss of pay.’

But where was Waite for more than four months?

In our original report in October, staff in her office told us they received a text message in September that Waite was in a pain clinic in Minnesota, but they had no other details.

RELATED: A D.A. goes M.I.A. Where is the Waushara County District Attorney?

A week after that story aired, we received a transcript from a court hearing where Judge Guy Dutcher assigned a new attorney to temporarily handle Waite’s duties in her absence.

That hearing included testimony that Waite was on a conference call with the Democratic Party for Waushara County in July and indicated “everything was going good in the office and made it seem like (she) was in the office and partaking in cases and caseload.”

We’ve tried to track down Waite to ask why she had not taken a case or shown up to work since June 26th, but couldn’t locate her in the office or by phone, email or at her home.

According to a string of emails we uncovered, state officials had a hard time finding her, too.

In a July 2nd email, Waite wrote to Kasey Deiss, the director of the State Prosecutor’s Office, that she’d ‘need to take medical leave for at least six weeks’ and ‘apologized for the inconvenience.’

Deiss promptly responded, ‘Focus on your health and get well soon. We will manage in your absence.’

July 22nd, Deiss emailed to check in and asked for an update.

August 10th, Deiss sent another email asking for a tentative return to work date.

The following day, Waite emailed, ‘I’ll keep you posted.’

Other details were redacted.

Nearly two months later, on October 5th, another email from Deiss read, ‘checking in on your status and return date if you have one.’

Two more weeks elapsed before Deiss sent a fifth email, that time writing, ‘I do not believe I received a response to my last email. Please let me know your status.’

Later that morning, Waite wrote back, ‘I did not respond on advice of counsel as I am currently under investigation by OLR after complaints by Jane and Judge Dutcher.’

OLR is the Office of Lawyer Regulation.

In our first report, Action 2 News had discovered some of Waite’s cases appeared to have been mishandled, including being dropped and later refiled.

Waite is listed in ‘good standing’ with the OLR, but that office can’t tell us anything about grievances filed until an investigation is complete.

As part of our open records request to the governor’s office, we also asked for the applications of everyone who applied to be Waushara County DA after the former prosecutor left for a new job in late 2019.

Five people applied, including assistant district attorneys and public defenders.

Waite’s application shows she was an Assistant DA in Wood County for about four months before she applied in February 2020.

Before that, her application shows her most current work was at Wisconsin Judicare, a non-profit law firm, where she wrote she worked mostly civil and family cases, but added she had no reservations about her ability to try a difficult case.

Waite also wrote on her application that her goal was to win re-election and be actively involved in the community professionally and personally.

Matthew Leusink, who voters elected in November, will take over in January.

In our initial report, we learned two retired DA’s from nearby counties had stepped in just to keep the court system moving while Waite was out of the office.

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