Columbia County District Attorney Tristan Eagon resigned Tuesday morning amid mounting staff shortages and as the office remains shuttered to the public.
In a letter submitted Tuesday to the state Department of Administration, Eagon described “a toxic environment” in the county and announced her immediate resignation.
Eagon was appointed Dec. 5, 2018, by former Gov. Scott Walker and took office Jan. 6. She replaced Jane Kohlwey, who announced in July she would step down and leave office in January, midway through her fourth term in office.
Eagon said her decision to resign was partly because Columbia County officials had for weeks attempted to “strong-arm” her opinion and “implied that if I ever wanted to be elected, I should put my own opinions aside and do as I was told.”
Eagon could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but claimed in her letter that when she resisted, her “otherwise perfectly functioning office was cast in a negative light.”
She said she gained no support and “Columbia County officials chiseled away at my office staff” by refusing to fulfill requests to replace vacant positions, reassigning one staff member without notifying Eagon, terminating another and then escorting out of the courthouse the entire support staff for the District Attorney’s Office.
She said all of these actions were taken without notice or explanation.
Columbia County Board Vice Chairman Dan Drew said Tuesday he had no comment about Eagon’s statements. Several other county officials contacted by the Daily Register did not return messages.
Eagon was notified in February of an alleged harassment complaint within her office, which county leaders began investigating Friday.
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“I do not know the nature of this complaint, the people involved, the person against whom the complaint is directed, nor any factual details,” Eagon said.
She said the Columbia County’s Human Resources department never communicated with her directly, and the office ignored an open records request.
“The County has essentially given me an ultimatum to either vacate the office or to continue to render this office completely inoperable,” Eagon said, calling the situation an “immoral political game” that she was not prepared for and that has harmed the county’s prosecution of criminal offenses.
She said she couldn’t let the situation continue because she cares for the safety and security of all and feels “awful” for the staff she leaves behind.
Eagon said she needed to resign to retain her integrity as a lawyer and for her own well-being.
Tia Torhorst, a spokeswoman at the Wisconsin Department of Administration, which manages the state’s district attorneys, said she received Eagon’s letter around 11 a.m. Tuesday.
Torhorst said district attorneys have the authority to choose whether to close their offices and are not required to notify the state Department of Administration beforehand.
Two Columbia County Circuit Court judicial assistants said despite the staffing issues at the district attorney’s office, scheduled court proceedings took place as planned Tuesday.
Local resident Shirley Hoel visited the office Tuesday morning and was surprised to learn it was closed to the public. Nonetheless, she repeatedly rang the bell outside the office until Assistant District Attorney Jordan Lippert emerged. Lippert told Hoel pretrial conferences were being rescheduled, then disappeared back into the office without further comment.