MacIver News Service | May 21, 2018
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON, Wis. – More than four months after allegations of widespread misconduct and dysfunction in the Ozaukee County Court system first came to light, a judicial administrative investigation continues.
“The investigation remains ongoing,” Tom Sheehan, Wisconsin Court System information officer, said Friday in an email responding to MacIver News Service’s request for an update on the probe.
Chief Judge Jennifer Dorow in early February “initiated an administrative investigation to address recent reports and concerns related to court administration in Ozaukee County,” according to a statement issued on behalf of the judge by the Wisconsin Court System.
The probe began three weeks after MacIver News Service’s investigation into the troubled court system.
Dorow, a Waukesha County judge, heads up the Third Judicial Administrative District, which includes Jefferson, Ozaukee, Washington, and Waukesha Counties. The chief judge has said she “expects this (investigative) process to identify any necessary next steps to ensure that the people of Ozaukee County have full confidence in the administration of the courts,” according to a February press release. Dorow has referred all questions to Sheehan.
Patrick Fiedler, a former U.S. attorney and Dane County judge, was tapped to lead the fact-finding investigation of “claims by Judge Joseph Voiland concerning Ozaukee County Officials,” Sheehan said in February. Sources tell MacIver News that Fiedler has conducted several interviews thus far.
The investigation goes on even as questions about conflicts and biases hang over Dorow and the administrator of the Third Judicial District.
As MacIver News Service first reported in January, the Ozaukee County Court system seems riddled with personality clashes and outright feuds. More so, the county clerk of courts, staff members and an administrator have been accused of changing and deleting a judge’s online court cases and not following the judge’s order.
Voiland in the spring of 2016 took his concerns to then-Jefferson County Judge Randy Koschnick, who also served as chief judge in the Third Judicial District. Koschnick, who is now Wisconsin’s director of State Courts, was concerned enough to get the director of the Consolidated Court Automation Programs (CCAP), the online state court records system, involved.
An examination of dozens of Voiland’s case files found someone had indeed been messing with the records, a felony crime – depending on intent.
The state Department of Justice subsequently opened a lengthy investigation into the complaint.
After a year and a half and some prodding for a resolution by Koschnick, the DOJ recently released its report concluding – without explanation – it would not seek charges in the matter.While it appears violations of the law at some level took place, what the Justice Department’s investigation fully exposed was breathtaking dysfunction in the Ozaukee County court system. #wiright #wipolitics Click To Tweet
The judge, according to the DOJ report, accuses Ozaukee County Clerk of Courts Mary Lou Mueller, Judge Paul Malloy, and Ozaukee County Circuit Court Commissioner Barry Boline of exceeding their authority in dealing with court documents and other court matters.
Voiland asserts Mueller and her staff backdated multiple court documents, deleted dates, and even changed the status of a probate case.
The change had the effect of the clerk of court granting an extension to complete the estate case, a power that clearly is the authority of the presiding judge.
“Judge Voiland stated that it appears Mueller, who is friends with a number of attorneys, altered these records in this matter to give additional time (an extension), to the parties involved, to complete these estates,” the report states.
Jean Bousquet, chief information officer for the Consolidated Court Automation Programs, or CCAP, reviewed the court documents in question and found, using meta data, that the changes had been made, as Voiland had complained.
Mueller insists the allegations are “false and unfounded.” Of course records were changed, the court clerk said. As the county has transferred to an all-online court records system, there was some “cleanup” in order.
The DOJ report also notes allegations that the clerk of court and staff defied court directives.
Things got really dicey when Voiland ordered physical placement studies, as required by law, through the Ozaukee County Family Court Services Office. He learned that the county hadn’t provided legally required services for years, and that the mandated funds paid by parties into what is supposed to be a segregated account went into a general fund.
In 2013, Voiland handily defeated incumbent Judge Tom Wolfgram after criticizing Wolfgram for betraying his impartiality by signing a recall petition against Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2011. Documents show Voiland believes Mueller, court staff members and the two other judges preferred three-term Wolfgram to the newcomer, to the point of retaliation. Others have made similar assertions.
Emails obtained by MacIver News Service have raised questions and concerns about the objectivity of Dorow and her top assistant, that they may be picking sides in the investigation – at least leaving that appearance.
Voiland has declined to comment on the matter.