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Court officials refute Voiland’s accusations PDF Print E-mail
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV   
Wednesday, 31 January 2018 20:02

Clerk says many claims in investigation prompted by judge are ‘baseless, twisted,’ other jurists defend system against attacks

investigation    Two Ozaukee County judges this week defended the county’s court system against accusations made by fellow Judge Joseph Voiland that sparked a 16-month criminal investigation and resulted in a report that portrays the court system as dysfunctional if not corrupt.
    Also firing back this week was Clerk of Courts Mary Lou Mueller, the main target of Voiland’s accusations, who said he fabricated facts and twisted the truth to further his own agenda.

    The 357-page report, which several court officials said they first saw in December, is the product of an investigation that began in May 2016 when Voiland contacted the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI) and alleged that court records had been falsified to subvert his career and accused Presiding Judge Paul Malloy, Court Commissioner Barry Boline and Mueller of felony misconduct in public office, according to the report.
    The investigation was abruptly closed in September without conclusions or recommendations and resulted in no action by the Department of Justice.
    “The majority of the allegations are baseless,” Mueller said of Voiland’s statements to investigators. “They run anywhere from completely false to twisted to partially true but without explanation. When I first read the report, I was shocked for days. I couldn’t go a page without saying, ‘That’s so wrong,’ ‘that’s so twisted’ or ‘that’s not the whole story.’
    “The report is clearly not an accurate portrayal of this court system, and it’s disheartening to have all this time, money and effort wasted on this investigation. The problem is with Judge Voiland, not anyone else in this court system.”
    Voiland, who unseated longtime Judge Tom Wolfgram in the April 2013 election with a campaign that focused on the fact Wolfgram signed the Gov. Scott Walker recall petition, did not return messages.
    In an interview this week, Malloy, who has been on the bench since 2002, said the Ozaukee County court system is neither dysfunctional nor corrupt.
    “I’m proud of the Ozaukee County justice system,” he said. “No system is perfect, but we routinely get compliments about how we do our jobs and about how efficient we are.
    “If anyone actually thought there was criminal conduct going on in our system, don’t you think they would have shut it down?”
    After contacting DCI in May 2016, Voiland met the next month with two  agents at the Ozaukee County Justice Center in Port Washington and began to level a litany of accusations against court officials that ranged from claims of criminal document tampering to more trivial allegations about how he was treated by other court officials who, he suggested, were conspiring to undermine his career, according to the report.
    According to one of the agents involved in the investigation, “Judge Voiland had advised (special agent) Culver that violations of (state statute) 946.12, misconduct in public office, were applicable to the actions of Commissioner Boline, Clerk of Courts Mary Lou Mueller and Judge Malloy,” according to the report.
    The investigation focused in large part on changes made to electronic court records in the Wisconsin Consolidated Court Automation Programs (CCAP) case management system and how Mueller, who also serves as the county’s register in probate, classified and handled probate cases.
    Voiland noted that one probate case assigned to him on March 3, 2016, was backdated by Mueller to July 13, 2014.
    “Judge Voiland stated Mary Lou Mueller had falsified a document, essentially making Judge Voiland look bad and look as if he was sitting on cases,” an agent wrote in the report.
    The agent then asked Voiland if he thought this was done out of malice or because of incompetence.
    “Judge Voiland stated he guessed it was malicious, but described such procedure as status quo,” the agent wrote.
    Voiland then told agents that Mueller had thrown a party for Wolfgram, the popular judge Voiland unseated in a contentious election, and his friends.
    “That strikes me as being completely irrelevant, but I don’t know what party he’s talking about,” Mueller said in an interview. “He (Voiland) just throws these statements out there and you’re left wondering.”
    Mueller said changes are made to CCAP records when mistakes are found in case files. She noted that when her office was going through the process of converting paper files to electronic documents as part of a paperless records initiative, several mistakes were found and corrected.
    “We make changes to court records to reflect what actually happened,” she said.
    Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Sandy Williams said there’s nothing improper or illegal about correcting records.
    “Mary Lou Mueller worked really hard to turn us into a paperless court system, and in the process mistakes were caught,” she said. “Mistakes happen, and when they’re caught, they’re changed. I think that’s an efficient way to operate.”
    Voiland also told investigators that Mueller granted hearing date extensions in contested, or formal, probate cases, which she does not have the authority to do.
    But Mueller said the county’s other judges have authorized her to grant such extensions.
    “The granting of extensions is something that other judges have wanted me to do,” she said. “When he (Voiland) ordered me to stop, I stopped.”
    Williams said, “Mary Lou probably knows dates and deadlines in probate cases better than judges do, so I trust her to grant extensions.”
    Agents consulted Deputy Director of State Courts Sara Ward-Cassady about the standard practices of court clerks throughout the state. She answered their questions, then added her opinion.

    “Ward-Cassady stated if there was motive to make a judge look bad, probate cases are not the way to do it. Ward-Cassady stated one would never judge a judge’s effectiveness by how he handles probate cases,” according to the report.
    Voiland also accused the Clerk of Courts Office of improperly divulging the name of a woman in September 2015 who was the subject of a child abuse restraining order case, the contents of which are sealed by law.
    But, Mueller said, it was the woman’s attorney, not her office, who made the woman’s name public when she filed a writ of habeas corpus — a protection against illegal detention rooted in English common law — in a successful effort to free her client after Voiland ordered her jailed in connection with the civil restraining order case.
    The restraining order case was initiated by the father of Leah Marie Goodman’s daughter, who was seeking a court order to prevent Goodman from have contact with the girl.
    During an Aug. 25, 2015, court hearing, Voiland ordered the woman held in jail because he believed she had lied under oath.
    The next day, Malloy heard arguments from Goodman’s attorney, public defender Rachel Boaz, and agreed that Voiland did not state on the record a reason for Goodman’s incarceration, such as contempt of court or lying under oath, nor did he set bail for her or schedule a future hearing contrary to her constitutional rights.
    Malloy freed the woman immediately.
    “Judges in this county are not in the business of keeping people jailed indefinitely,” he said during the hearing.
    Mueller said her suspicions that she and other court officials were the subjects of an investigation triggered by Voiland were confirmed on Dec. 22, 2016, when DCI agents showed up unannounced at her office to interview her.
    “I had an idea before that something was going on because he (Voiland) was trying to tape record me,” she said.
    In a text message exchange a week before that, agents tipped Voiland off to their plans to interview Mueller and Deputy Clerk of Courts Connie Mueller “without an appointment” and asked the judge “is there a way you could find out if both are working Monday without raising any suspicions?” according to the report.
    After questioning Mary Lou Mueller about changing records and probate procedures, the agents asked her if she had anything to add. Mueller told them that an unusually large number of requests from people who wanted their cases transferred out of Voiland’s court had burdened the dockets of Williams and Malloy.
    “Mueller also stated in regard to trials in Judge Voiland’s court people had indicated if anything is complicated (about the case) that no one wants to be in Judge Voiland’s court,” the agents wrote.
    Among other court officials singled out by Voiland during the investigation was Boline, who he said dragged his feet when Voiland ordered him to have a custody study done in a family case, and Malloy, who Voiland said contradicted his order when he told Boline to hold off on the study.
    In Ozaukee County courts, guardian ad litems are typically appointed to represent the interests of children in divorce and custody cases as opposed to conducting custody studies. The issue, sources said, was that the county did not have an ordinance that designated which department would conduct the studies or a fee schedule that would allow the county to recoup the cost of the studies.
    In a June 7, 2016, email to Voiland regarding a 2009 family case, Boline wrote, “As you know, Ozaukee County has yet to enact an ordinance regarding reimbursement for the cost of the studies. Judge Malloy has suggested a moratorium on ordering studies until the ordinance is passed. Of course, if you want me to order the studies now, I will do so.”
    A month later, the Ozaukee County Board passed a legal custody and physical placement studies ordinance that enabled the county to establish a fee schedule and hourly rates for the studies that, according to supporting documents, would have otherwise cost the county an estimated $1,200 each.
    Shortly after Boline emailed Voiland, the two talked in person about the order to conduct the study. Voiland turned a recording of that conversation along with 41 electronic documents over to investigators.
    During the course of his conversations with agents about Boline and Malloy, Voiland raised the specter of misconduct in office offenses, according to the report.
    In an interview this week, Boline said, “I am absolutely not guilty of misconduct in office.”
    On June 21, 2016, one of the agents involved in the investigation called Jefferson County Circuit Judge Randy Koschnick, who at the time was chief judge of Wisconsin Circuit Court District III, which includes Ozaukee County. Voiland had also reported his allegations to Koschnick, who told the agents that he believed Voiland’s complaints were legitimate.
    “Judge Koschnick stated he has some serious concerns and stated he thinks Judge Voiland is correct in many of his concerns,” the agent wrote in the report. “Judge Koschnick stated from what he had gathered he did not know if personnel were conspiring or if it was a matter of sloppy clerk work.”
    On Aug. 4, 2016, Koschnick, Voiland and Voiland’s attorney, Daniel Kelly, gave an “informal presentation” to Deputy Attorney General Andrew Cook, the administrator for the Division of Legal Service, Assistant Attorney General David Meany and the investigators involved in the case at DCI headquarters in Madison about “possible evidence of criminal violations” by Mueller, the report states.
    Koschnick, who was one of five finalists for appointment to the Wisconsin Supreme Court to fill Justice David Prosser’s seat, did not receive the appointment and retired from the Jefferson County bench last year. Instead, Kelly, Voiland’s attorney at the time of the investigation, was appointed to the court by Walker for the remainder of Prosser’s term.
    Among the accusations Voiland made to agents that did not appear to be a substantive part of the investigation was a claim that Connie Mueller used his Waukesha County divorce file in a training exercise for clerks to embarrass him.
    Mary Lou Mueller said in an interview that Connie Mueller did not use his case file but rather mentioned his name, as well as the name of his predecessor, to illustrate a point.
    “She was making the point that all family cases are public, even if they are those of judges like Joe Voiland or Tom Wolfgram,” she said.
    Mary Lou Mueller said Connie Mueller, who Voiland noted for investigators are former in-laws, apologized, but Voiland repeatedly demanded to know if and how she was disciplined.
    In an email to Voiland, Mary Lou Mueller wrote, “Judge, the clerk has apologized to you and has said she will not speak about your family case to the staff again. This is now an internal matter between me and my staff. Therefore, this matter is concluded between us. Thank you.”
    Voiland also told investigators that he was not allowed to choose his own staff, and that one of the clerks assigned to his courtroom was probably chosen for the job because she signed the Walker recall petition, according to the report.
    But Mueller said she went out of her way to find a clerk that was a good fit in Voiland’s courtroom.    
    “When Judge Voiland came in, I wanted him to be happy, so I said, ‘Let’s find someone you like,’” she said in an interview.
    Voiland’s first clerk seemed to work out well until he decided that a part-time job she held constituted a conflict of interest, Mueller said.
    “He told me, ‘You do whatever you want, but I can’t trust her anymore,’” Mueller said. The clerk was fired.
    Among the emails Voiland gave to agents was a Nov. 3, 2014, message from Malloy sent after Malloy lost his temper during a meeting with Voiland. In the email, Malloy expressed frustration over his efforts to mediate disputes between Voiland and other officials and courthouse employees.
    “For my part, I feel like I have tried my hardest to mediate the issues that you have had with the front office,” Malloy wrote. “I understand that you feel that people have tried to undermine your authority. I can understand your feeling in that regard. I just have not seen it.”
    Malloy noted that when a county supervisor became upset about Voiland’s children being in his chambers and was going to sponsor a resolution that prohibited employees from having their children at work during business hours, he intervened.
    “At that point I thought it was wiser to discuss the issue with you rather than have it aired out in a County Board meeting,” he wrote.
    Voiland also turned over to investigators  a series of emails he sent to Malloy and Mueller, among others, in late 2014 about what he called a “whisper campaign” to spread lies about him not being available for court hearings, according to the report.
    By late September 2017, the investigation was closed. In an email to agents working on the probe, Assistant Attorney General Michelle Viste wrote, “I am just writing to confirm with you that the DLS (Division of Legal Services) has closed the Ozaukee Co. case as a non-prosecution.”
    Mueller said that if Voiland thinks there was a conspiracy against him starting from the day he was elected, he’s wrong.
    “There was never a campaign against him,” she said. “When he came into office, I went out of my way to tell him he had my respect. I went out of my way to probably treat him better than I did the other two judges.”
    Mueller said that while the resources invested in the DCI investigation sparked by Voiland are stunning, there’s no mystery why the probe was started.
    “He (Voiland) used his weight and connections to get this investigation launched,” she said. “He’s very well connected on the far right, which is how he got elected.”
    While the investigation will undoubtedly do nothing to mend relationships in the Ozaukee County court system, Mueller said  that will not affect her department’s performance.
    “My department will continue to serve Judge Voiland with respect and dignity because that’s our job,” she said. “We don’t have to like each other, but we have to get the job done.”

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 January 2018 21:40
 
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