Fish Isn't The Only Thing Getting "Boiled" In Door County
Door County is justifiably famous for it's delicious fish boils. Despite the best efforts of the media to cover it up though, it seems that fish isn't the only thing getting boiled in Door County.
About 2:30 a.m. on December 8th, a car driven by a woman named Debra Fitzgerald was pulled over by a sheriff's deputy in Egg Harbor. The officer had observed the car speeding, weaving in it's lane and ultimately drifting onto the centerline of Highway 42. Fitzgerald was subsequently determined to have a blood alcohol level of .236 (almost three times the legal limit).
Fitzgerald is not your garden variety drunk driver however. Rather, she's a well known reporter for the local newspaper, The Door County Advocate. Despite the fact that she's a semi-public figure by virtue of her occupation, the newspaper made the decision to bury the story of her arrest. Rather than a separate story, her name was simply published in late January along with 16 other first-time drunk drivers in a routine rundown of court proceedings.
The newspaper says that it really wasn't protecting it's own but simply treating Fitzgerald as it would any other first-time drunk driver. Hmm? I seriously wonder whether the newspaper would treat a Green Bay television personality or (heaven forbid) a Milwaukee radio host arrested under similar circumstances in the same way? Why do I have my doubts?
There is however even more to this story.
When Fitzgerald was arrested, authorities discovered that a woman named Joan Korb was a passenger in the car. The police reports note that, like Fitzgerald, Korb had been drinking. Since Korb was not driving (and had therefore not committed a crime), authorities did not administer any tests to determine how much Korb had had to drink.
Joan Korb is the former District Attorney for Door County. She is currently employed as the only Assistant District Attorney for the county. In that capacity, she is responsible for handling the majority of the drunken driving prosecutions in the jurisdiction.
Obviously, the presence of one of the county's top law enforcement officers in Fitzgerald's vehicle under these circumstances raises a series of questions. Even the local newspaper has now acknowledged that it blew it badly by not aggressively reporting the incident. The issue though is what should happen now?
Unfortunately, while she has not committed a crime, Korb has badly compromised herself by being in a vehicle under these circumstances. It's tough to urge people to not allow friends to drive drunk when the prosecutor is, at best, doing precisely that.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that Korb is the only Assistant District Attorney for the county. If she worked in a bigger office, the DA could simply pull her from prosecuting drunk driving cases and transfer her to some other area. When it's only a two person shop though, this becomes tougher.
I certainly don't think there's a basis to fire Korb because of her involvement in this situation. After all, our former Attorney General was convicted of drunken driving and not forced to resign (even though the charge ultimately led to her being fired by the voters). I'm not sure there's even a basis to institute a formal disciplinary action against her. Nevertheless, her exercise of bad judgement has certainly created a mess for her boss.
I've received e-mails from a number of people who see this incident as part of a larger series of problems in Door County that have been covered up by the local media. I really don't have a position on this.
I do know however that people in positions of responsibility have an obligation to behave in a fashion that is beyond reproach. If this means that public officials can't go riding around with boiled friends - even in Door County - so be it.