The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Thursday that Schimel sent an email to staffers in his agency on Aug. 10 telling them to sign the statement. It included a spreadsheet with 129 employees who had yet to sign it.
“If your name is on the attached list, please print and sign the attached Agreement,” the email said. It lists no punishment for those who would violate the agreement, but Justice Department spokeswoman Rebecca Ballweg told the newspaper they could be guilty of a “work rule violation.”
The nondisclosure agreement applies to current full-time employees as well as “limited term employees, contractors, interns, externs and law enforcement partners.”
Ballweg said that the agreement is not related to the Republican Schimel’s run for re-election or the fact that the agreement was finalized a month after Democrat Josh Kaul got into the race.
“There were absolutely no political considerations involved in updating or requiring the policy” Ballweg said. She said she is unaware of any other state agency that requires all staffers to sign a similar nondisclosure agreement.
Wisconsin Democratic Party spokeswoman Courtney Beyer said Thursday that Schimel has “created a culture of secrecy at his Department of Justice. Wisconsin needs a new attorney general who is committed to transparency and fighting corruption.”
Former Wisconsin Corrections Secretary Ed Wall has been outspoken against Schimel and Gov. Scott Walker for their handling of problems at the state’s juvenile prison, writing a tell-all book about his time in the administration.
Ballweg said the agreement would not prevent whistleblowers from coming forward. She said the agreements were needed because Justice Department employees regularly handle sensitive and confidential information.
Last year, Ballweg said, human resources staffers at the Justice Department realized different bureaus and offices were using different nondisclosure agreements. Ballweg said a uniform agreement was drafted in May 2017, finalized in August, and all 757 staffers have been asked to sign it.
“DOJ employees have been very cooperative in returning the signed form,” Ballweg said.