Chief Judge Launches Probe Into Dysfunctional Ozaukee County Court System

The chief judge “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,” the press release states. #wiright… Click To Tweet

MacIver News Service | Feb. 13, 2018

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON, Wis. – The plot is thickening in the troubled Ozaukee County Circuit Court System.

Nearly three weeks after MacIver News Service’s investigation into possible misconduct and certain dysfunction in the southeastern Wisconsin circuit court, a leading judicial official has launched a probe into the allegations.

As MacIver News Service first reported last month, the county court system seems riddled with personality clashes and outright feuds.

Chief Judge Jennifer Dorow has “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. 

Dorow, a Waukesha County judge, heads up the Third Judicial Administrative District, which includes Jefferson, Ozaukee, Washington, and Waukesha Counties.

The chief judge “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,” the press release states.

Patrick Fiedler, a former U.S. attorney and Dane County judge, will lead the fact-finding investigation of “claims by Judge Joseph Voiland concerning Ozaukee County Officials,” Tom Sheehan, court information officer for the state Supreme Court, said in an email.

Dorow’s assistant referred all questions to Sheehan.

The Director of State Courts on Monday entered an agreement with Fiedler and his law firm of Hurley, Burish and Stanton, S.C. that will pay Fiedler $175 per hour, plus expenses. Another investigator at the firm will be paid $85 per hour, plus expenses, according to Sheehan.

The investigation is being conducted under the authority provided the chief judge in Wisconsin Supreme Court rules, according to the press release. Such investigations are rare, according to a court official.

Depending on Fiedler’s findings, the Ozaukee County Clerk of Courts office could be under new management.

“The chief judge may direct the activities of all clerk of court offices within the district and may recommend or direct changes in the operation of any clerk’s office,” according to state Supreme Court rules. 

As MacIver News Service first reported last month, the Ozaukee county court system seems riddled with personality clashes and outright feuds. #wiright #wipolitics Click To Tweet

According to a Court System email obtained by MacIver News Service, Fiedler has been tasked with looking into the following allegations:

1) Clerk (of Courts) altering and/or deleting circuit court records such as documents, dates, presiding court officials without making an appropriate record entry or notifying the assigned judge, including a case designated as a John Doe case;

2) Clerk/Register in Probate changing cases between formal and informal and back to formal without the approval of the assigned judge, and granting extensions in those cases;

3) County failed to maintain a separate account exclusively for purposes of providing family court services as required by section 814.615 of the Wisconsin Statutes;

4) Failure of County to appoint a director of family court services as required by section 767.405(1m)(a) of the Wisconsin Statutes;

5) Presiding Judge Paul Malloy directing Court Commissioner Barry Boline to disregard a court order issued by Judge Joseph Voiland to provide family court services.

As MacIver News Service first reported last month, the 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. A place where the administration of justice often seems hampered by a county clerk of courts and an administrative staff that Voiland claims has an ax to grind against him – a judge they insist has created a “hostile work environment.” A judge who is unwilling to do things as they have always been done.

Voiland makes it clear in the DOJ report, however, that doing things the way they have always been done at times has meant breaking the law.

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.

“Judge Voiland stated, from examining this form versus the actual case file, it is clear that the Clerk of Court had changed the case designation from ‘Formal Administration’ to ‘Informal Administration’ on this form,” the DOJ report states. “Judge Voiland stated this change is not to be made without telling Judge Voiland.”

That’s not just a judge’s preference; it’s the law.

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.

“It was housecleaning is what it was, correcting mistakes on the record,” Mueller told MacIver News Service in an interview. “There were mistakes across the board. It’s equal among all the judges. It wasn’t focused just on him.”

To that end, Mueller said there was no backdating of documents, merely corrections.

Sources tell MacIver News that Mueller’s statement, effectively calling a sitting judge a lier, particularly when the DOJ investigation confirmed changes to the court files, necessitated the investigation.

The DOJ report also notes allegations that the clerk of court and staff defied court directives.

In one case, the clerk of courts office on multiple occasions failed to deliver judge substitution requests to Voiland, something that must be done under the law. Mueller, according to documents, blamed a new staff member in the office. Eventually Koschnick, chief judge of the Third District at the time, advised Mueller that if she didn’t personally and promptly present Voiland with substitution requests, he would find someone else to do the job – at county expense. Mueller complied.

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.

“The Ozaukee County Family Court Services Office does not provide legal custody and physical placement studies. Ozaukee county does not have a cooperative agreement to establish such an office that provides legal custody and physical placement studies. The Director of the Family Court Services does not have a contract with any person or public or private entity to provide legal custody and physical placement studies,” Boline, the court commissioner, wrote in a letter on June 8, 2015, addressing Voiland’s concerns.

It seems Judge Malloy, the court, and, ultimately, the county were in a bit of a pickle. They had not been in compliance with the law for some time. Voiland, as he seems wont to do, pressed the issue. He continued to order services the county did not offer. And Malloy, the head judge, told Boline to ignore Voiland’s orders, according to the DOJ report. Malloy wanted to wait until the county government dealt with the lapse in services. Voiland played a DOJ investigator an audio recording of Boline telling Voiland that “Judge Paul Malloy had ordered Commissioner Boline not to follow an order which Judge Voiland had issued” regarding a Family Court Services matter.

Koschnick had to tell Malloy not to order Boline to disregard Voiland’s orders. “Judge Koschnick stated he told Commissioner Boline he must follow Judge Voiland’s orders unless such an order was illegal,” the report states.

Koschnick, it seems, often had to play peacekeeper between warring parties. Mueller often complained about Voiland’s interpersonal skills.

“…I am concerned with the actions of a judge and his demeanor to clerk of court’s staff. On more than one occasion I have received reports from staff that a judge has treated them in such a way that may be characterized as uncivil, abrasive, demanding, or hostile,” the clerk wrote to the chief judge. “Another recent event has occurred and I no longer think we can chalk it up to inexperience or uniqueness. I do not want to go into specifics in this email, but I think it is time we have a discussion about the behavior and how best to address the issues.”

Koschnick did have the discussion, according to the DOJ report, and found Voiland “was not guilty of the allegations and had acted appropriately.”

Mueller told MacIver News that there is dysfunction in the Ozaukee County Court system, and Voiland is the cause.

A former Ozaukee County Court official told MacIver News Service that the system is a provincial place. If you are an outsider, as Voiland was deemed to be, it’s hard to feel at home.

“I feel Judge Voiland is on a very, very small island by himself there,” said the former employee, who asked not to be identified due to concerns over professional considerations.

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.

The former court official who spoke with MacIver News Service said Voiland’s concerns are merited. She said she was often warned against dealing with Voiland, that he had a reputation as a difficult judge. In her experience, she said, Voiland was nothing but professional.

“He made the mistake of upsetting a liked judge,” she said. “I think Judge Voiland was different. He was new. Just because he wasn’t settling for the lazier way or maybe the friendlier way .. I mean (the court system) so small town. The idea is, ‘We all get along here.’ But you still can’t bend the rules. If a judge says the statutes must be followed, you follow the court. That’s what Judge Voiland expected.”