How to put an end to turmoil in Ozaukee court system

It is time for Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Joseph Voiland to resign.

Voiland owes it to the people of Ozaukee County, including those who were persuaded to vote for him in 2013, to step aside and let the governor appoint a qualified replacement to fill the remaining year of his term.

Voiland, after nearly five years on the bench, has a record of dubious judicial decisions that have raised concerns in legal circles, but it is his record of sowing discord and dysfunction in the Ozaukee County justice system that suggests Branch 2 of the Ozaukee County Circuit Court needs a new judge.

The animosity with which Voiland treats elected and appointed colleagues is well known in the Ozaukee County Justice Center, but it gained public exposure in two investigations of the Ozaukee Court system that—ironically—were instigated by Voiland himself.

Voiland, seeming to act on his festering resentments rather than evidence, accused Presiding Judge Paul Malloy, Clerk of Courts Mary Lou Mueller and Circuit Court Commissioner Barry Boline of felonies by falsifying documents and committing other misdeeds. These were crimes, Voiland claimed, that were part of a conspiracy to embarrass him.

After a 16-month investigation, the state Division of Criminal Investigation last February reported no finding of wrong doing and closed the case when Voiland stopped cooperating with the probe.

A subsequent investigation by Patrick Fiedler, a former judge and U.S. attorney appointed by the chief judge of the judicial district that includes Ozaukee County, found Voiland’s accusations to be false.

Fiedler’s report, issued last week, expresses alarm over behavior that has “resulted in a lack of trust which has affected the administration of the court system.”

The investigator found that communication between Voiland and other court officials had deteriorated to the point where it is a “serious problem.”

The report determined that errors by the clerk of courts office cited by Voiland as examples of misconduct were merely “reasonable” and “innocent” mistakes in handling more than 100,000 documents per year and not “an attempt to usurp the authority of Judge Voiland.”

Voiland has been a disrupting presence in the Justice Center in other ways. An unusually large number of defendants and litigants destined for his court exercise their right to request a substitute judge. Voiland has averaged more than 120 substitution requests per year, compared to the roughly 30 substitutions that are average for judges in the state. The cases are sent to the county’s other two circuit judges, Malloy and Sandy Williams, substantially increasing their case loads.

The substitution requests may be prompted by concerns rising from questionable court rulings by Voiland, such as his recent order prohibiting a man who could not afford an attorney from petitioning the court himself and the jailing of a woman in a civil case on flimsy grounds.

In the first case, a Washington County judge found that Voiland had violated the man’s constitutional rights and ruled that Ozaukee County would have to pay for a court-appointed attorney.

In the second case, the woman was released from jail when Judge Malloy found her detention unlawful after she filed a writ of habeas corpus.    

Voiland won his office by politicizing the non-partisan judicial election and exploiting the strong Republican leanings of Ozaukee voters by making the fact that incumbent Judge Tom Wolfgram had, as a private citizen, signed a petition for the recall of Gov. Scott Walker essentially the single issue in the election.

Conflict began soon after Voiland was sworn in, and professional communication and cooperation between Voiland and other court officials broke down in the face of the rancor introduced into what had been a smooth-running court system known for its competent administration.

It is possible that the new judge didn’t understand the procedures in place in the court system, but how being ill prepared for judicial duty evolved into his conspiracy theory that court officials were committing crimes to make him look bad defies explanation.

In any case, it seems clear that Voiland is not happy in his job. It looks like another sign that it’s time to resign.   

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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