The good news is that David and Brian Eliason are innocent of any criminal wrongdoing, evidenced by the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) move to dismiss all securities fraud charges against them. The bad news is that state prosecutors destroyed their reputation and their lives, without any merit.

It took more than a year of defense arguments, before and after charges were filed, for prosecutors to understand that they had all the evidence they needed to show that the Eliason brothers followed the advice of their Foley & Lardner attorney when putting together documents that were given to investors, including risk.

It is now quite clear that Department of Financial Institution investigators failed to comprehend the evidence they had, and that Attorney General Brad Schimel’s justice department made the same horrendous mistakes in deciding to file charges.

We can’t say it better than David Eliason’s attorney, Stephen Kravit, who wrote in response to the dismissal: “This case is an object lesson in the misuse of the overwhelming power we give to our prosecutors, the resources, the automatic perception that someone charged with a crime is guilty. That power must be most carefully, competently and judiciously exercised. It was not in this case.”

Not only are the mistakes disturbing, but there was no accountability shown in the DOJ’s explanation for them. Schimel’s department said the dismissal was prompted by “new facts and information related to the charges,” but it appears neither side did anything more than revisit previously obtained evidence.

According to Kravit, that old evidence was contained in depositions that the DOJ gathered in 2014, long before charges were filed. Some of it was evidence even defense attorneys didn’t realize the state possessed until pre-trial discovery. We believe the public’s confidence in the Department of Justice and the attorney general has been shaken.

The mistakes are doubly concerning for this newspaper because in essence, with our coverage of such felony cases, we become party to the destruction of people’s lives when prosecutors get it wrong. We trust, as do the people of Wisconsin, that prosecutors have probable cause to file a felony charge before they damage an individual’s reputation, finances and life in general.

As a side note, it was assistant attorneys general handling the case who sought a gag order after defense attorneys went public with evidence that disproved the charges. The court threw out the motion, which was opposed by the defense and a coalition of media interests led by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

We sympathize with the investors who lost millions of dollars to the Great Recession. The Eliason brothers were a party to that but unfortunately, risk is within the nature of investing and the potential for profit.

David and Brian Eliason deserve an apology from the attorney general that they’ll likely never hear. They deserve an admission of the mistakes that were made as well, lest the department be saddled for years to come with the shadow of incompetence and lack of accountability. They deserve to have the state-imposed shadow of wrongdoing wiped away entirely.

Behind the editorial ‘we’

    Members of the Vilas County News-Review editorial board include Publisher Kurt Krueger, Editor Gary Ridderbusch and Assistant Editor Doug Etten.