New Emails Raise More Conflict Questions In Probe Of Troubled Ozaukee County Court

MacIver News Service | March 29, 2018

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON, Wis. – A new round of emails obtained by MacIver News Service raises more questions and concerns about the objectivity of the judge overseeing an investigation into the troubled Ozaukee County court system.

The DOJ report left myriad unresolved questions about the conduct of court administrators and what appear to be violations of the law.

In February, Chief Judge Jennifer Dorow “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 District, which includes Jefferson, Ozaukee, Washington, and Waukesha Counties.

The emails, obtained by MacIver News in an open records request, show Ozaukee County Circuit Court Presiding Judge Paul Malloy keeping Dorow and Third Judicial District Administrator Michael Neimon “in the loop” about “anything that develops around” the court.

In one email, sent on Feb. 15, a few days after MacIver News first reported that the investigation was underway, Malloy informed Dorow and Neimon of a local story on the probe.

“Morning Jennifer and Mike, There is an article on the investigation in todays [sic] Ozaukee Press. You can get that On line,” Malloy wrote. “There is also an editorial in the Ozaukee Press. For some reason it can not be pulled up. I will try and have a copy made for you and sent to you. Paul.”

The story, mainly a defense of Ozaukee County court administrators, includes comment from embattled County Clerk of Courts Mary Lou Mueller, who complains that “the majority” of allegations brought against Malloy and others are “baseless.”

“They run anywhere from completely false to twisted to partially true but without explanation,” Mueller stated.

Malloy is also quoted, gushing about all of the compliments the court system receives.

The story also notes the fact that the state Department of Justice late last year wrapped up an investigation into a raft of misconduct complaints brought against Mueller, Malloy, and others by Ozaukee County Judge Joe Voiland.

The DOJ, without comment, ended its 15-month probe without recommending charges. But the report left myriad unresolved questions about the conduct of court administrators and what appear to be violations of the law.

Dorow’s judicial investigation began following MacIver News Service’s investigative report into possible misconduct and definite dysfunction in the southeastern Wisconsin circuit court.

At the time, the court system press release stated that 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.”

Patrick Fiedler, a former U.S. attorney and Dane County judge, is leading the fact-finding investigation.

Malloy, Ozaukee County’s senior judge, is a subject of that investigation. Malloy, documents show, advised a court administrator to disobey Voiland’s order in a family court matter. And Malloy is integrally involved in what appears to be Ozaukee County’s failure for years to follow state statue on family court services and finances.

Court insiders tell MacIver News that the latest emails raise concerns that the chief judge and her top assistant may be picking sides in the investigation – at least leaving that appearance. And a judge in such investigations should remove herself from a case where a conflict, perceived or otherwise, exist, sources say.

Court officials have declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.

Tom Sheehan, the state Supreme Court’s information officer, could not be reached for comment this week. An official from Dorow’s office again directed all inquiries to Sheehan.

Dorow does not appear to respond, at least by email, to Malloy’s message about the newspaper article, based on the documents returned in the open records request.

But Neimon and Malloy carry on a continuing conversation about the Ozaukee County situation. The two men sound critical of the Department of Justice’s handling of the closing of its investigation, and of Voiland and then-Third District Chief Judge Randy Koschnick taking the misconduct allegations to the DOJ in the first place.

“Mike, I spoke with Adam Gerol (Ozaukee County District Attorney) on Thursday or Friday and he told me he has requested DOJ’s entire file,” Malloy wrote in an email to Neimon on Feb. 5. “The decision to ‘no [sic] prosecute’ it leaves something open in his mind. He feels they (the complainants) did a complete end around on this by going to DOJ and that by statute he should have been the starting point of the investigation. For this type of investigation DOJ would be come [Sic] involved at his request. He is also upset that they never notified him of anything about the investigation…. They never bothered to send him the report.”

Malloy told Neimon he believed the “next chapter is still being written.”

“I am not sure how this can play out any differently now that Judge Voiland declined to provide any more information (to the DOJ)” Malloy added.

Voiland, according to documents, offered no further information because he believed the DOJ agents had failed to pursue leads on information he previously had provided agents, including communications between individuals alleged to have broken the law.

In an email dated Feb. 3, Malloy thanked Neimon for his understanding.

“I will keep you in the loop on anything that develops around here,” the judge wrote. “I tried to be circumspect in my comments (and kept) it from being personal. That is not always easy to do but I am trying to address an issue that (has) become a topic of public interest while at the same time remaining professional. I will let you know of any developments.”

“Thanks for keeping me in the loop,” Neimon wrote in response to Malloy.

In previous emails obtained by MacIver News, Neimon offered a negative assessment of Voiland and his complaints.

In a Dec. 18 email, Mueller, the county clerk of courts, sent Dorow and Neimon a copy of the state Department of Justice’s 357-page report on its investigation into the court. Mueller refers to “Judge Voiland’s complaint” against her, Ozaukee County Court Commissioner Barry Boline, and Malloy.

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 DOJ report notes that Voiland first raised his concerns about changed or deleted court files and other irregularities in spring 2016 to then-Third Judicial District Chief Judge Randy Koschnick, who now serves as director of state courts. Koschnick then took the matter to the Consolidated Court Automation Programs (CCAP), the online state court records system.

An examination of dozens of Voiland’s case files found someone had indeed been messing with the records, a felony crime – depending on intent.

Mueller has vehemently denied any misconduct, claiming she and others have been harassed by Voiland.

“These distorted accusations are very troubling,” she wrote in the December email. “I feel as though Judge Voiland has tarnished my good name as a clerk and register, as well as Commissioner Boline and Judge Malloy throughout the state with these wild, unfounded accusations.”

The clerk of courts then requested a meeting with Dorow and Neimon to discuss the matter and for advice on “how to proceed in a professional level with Judge Voiland in the future. I am concerned that the harassment will not stop.”

Dorow responded in an email on Dec. 20 advising that she would consult with Malloy and Neimon and be in touch after the holidays.

In the email communications, Neimon sent Mueller sample answers on how to handle a reporter’s questions about the DOJ investigation into the court system.

“I took a stab at some answers as I remember them,” the administrator wrote in an email to Mueller dated Monday, Jan. 15. “I realize there is a balance between answering, need to answer, etc. There is also a balance between what you get from it and what damage will come of responding.”

Neimon, who works for Judge Dorow, told the county court clerk that if he were in Mueller’s position, he would respond to the reporter’s questions, “because that is my nature.” He advised Mueller to get ahead of the story rather than “chasing the allegations.”

Neimon’s position on Voiland seems clear in his ghostwritten responses for Mueller. He describes Voiland’s claims as “either false, twisted in their presentation or context, or merely are office issues that normally are not aired out to the media.” That veribiage ended up in Mueller’s comments to news publications.

In many emails, Dorow is made aware of how Ozaukee County court officials plan to respond to questions about their conduct.

In an email response to MacIver News Service’s questions, Malloy said, “With an ongoing review being conducted by former Judge (Fiedler) I think it would be inappropriate to comment and possibly contrary to the rules governing judicial conduct.”

But the judge was eager to send Dorow and Neimon the Ozaukee County press coverage of the investigation, in which Dorow makes a public comment.

The latest emails obtained in MacIver’s open records request were buried in more than 750 pages of documents, many of which were unrelated to the investigations into the Ozaukee County court system. Malloy originally planned to charge MacIver nearly $300 for the records – $195.25, at 25 cents a page copying fee, plus $99.60 for two hours staff time to fill the records request. MacIver informed the judge and the state court system that only electronic records were sought in the open records request and pointed to a recent court decision affirming that there should be minimal costs associated with such requests. Malloy noted in his response that only electronic records were available, yet he was charging a copying fee.

Malloy and the court ultimately dropped the copying fee, and turned over the requested records – for $99.60, payable to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.