Thursday, August 26, 2010

Until Hell Freezes Over Or Defeated For Reelection

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has reprimanded a former municipal court judge for his reaction to staffing and funding issues in his court:

The parties agree that the additional clerk support would have assisted the municipal court in case management and reduced or possibly eliminated the need for the municipal court to rely on clerical staff from the city's police department to process court cases involving parking citations and other court administrative matters.  [The] Judge...believes he would have been encouraged to process cases in a more timely manner if there had been additional clerk support so he would not have been required to spend time performing tasks that he believed to be more properly the work of a clerk.

Since early May 2009, [the] Judge...refused to adjudicate any parking ticket stipulation cases.  He did so to protest the decision of the City of Cudahy's police department that the municipal court could no longer access the police department computer in those cases.  After that time, [he] placed parking ticket stipulation cases in a box.  He told the Judicial Commission that "they can sit and collect dust until hell freezes over for all [he] care[s]."  [He] refused to adjudicate parking ticket stipulation cases because he believed that the use of a police department clerk as a de facto court clerk in those cases was unconstitutional.  Although he did adjudicate a small number of parking ticket stipulation cases after the half-time clerk position was approved in November of 2009, most of those cases remained unadjudicated until he left office on April 30, 2010. 

As to sanction:

The misconduct at issue in this case is serious.  [The judge] repeatedly and willfully refused to dispose of judicial matters presented to him promptly, efficiently, and fairly.  We agree with the panel that there is no conceivable reason that might justify a backlog of 3,500 cases, some of which were more than seven years old.  [The judge's] persistent misconduct stymied the timely disposition of cases assigned to him and adversely impacted the business of the Cudahy municipal court and, more broadly, cast a negative light on the entire Wisconsin judicial system. 

Under the circumstances presented here, we conclude that the appropriate discipline for [his] judicial misconduct is a reprimand.  We note that in his stipulation [he] expressed regret for his conduct.  We further note that [he] was defeated in the general election and no longer serves as a municipal judge.  The likelihood of similar conduct by [the judge] is minimal, and we trust that the reprimand we impose on him will provide adequate protection to the public from any further judicial misconduct of this kind by others.

Good to see the court concerned about a negative light on the Wisconsin judicial system. (Mike Frisch)

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“The Judicial Conduct Panel noted that the discipline imposed for judicial misconduct should be determined by the extent that the public needs protection from unacceptable judicial behavior”. Surely the citizens are better able to judge this and surely the citizens did so by electing and re-electing him and, ultimately, not re-electing him? Isn’t the court simply usurping the election process here?

An additional clerk was appointed. Who is to say that in the long run, the appointment of that clerk will not in fact better protect the public? Isn’t this just the judicial equivalent of civil disobedience? Civil disobedience is, by definition, illegal, yet we do approve of it and, on rare occasion, those engaging in it ultimately become our most respected heroes.

I find it unfortunate that case law such as this is built on the backs of cases which are not really adversarial. Clearly, this judge, being no longer in office, did not want to expend the effort to litigate this case and therefore simply bowed to the court who then rewarded him with a reprimand. That’s especially unfortunate in this case as there are so many good arguments which could have been made yet weren’t.


Posted by: FixedWing | Aug 26, 2010 10:46:09 AM

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