Clerk of courts joins list of those targeted by Voiland

As county official seeks reimbursement for legal fees related to court probe, judge threatens her with a lawsuit
Ozaukee Press staff

In pursuing a claim against Ozaukee County for legal expenses she incurred during a court investigation triggered by Judge Joseph Voiland, Clerk of Courts Mary Lou Mueller has joined a growing list of people Voiland is suing or threatening to sue.

At a meeting Tuesday of the Public Safety Committee, which recommended the county deny Mueller’s claim for $33,224 in legal fees, Voiland presented a written statement  and copy of a letter from his attorney to Mueller accusing her of making defamatory statements about him.

Committee members didn’t consider Voiland’s written statement, but the letter reveals that Mueller is among those the judge is threatening to sue.

“Your false, misleading public statements have and will cause Judge Voiland damages,” Voiland’s lawyer, Brent Nistler of Wauwatosa, wrote to Mueller on Nov. 30. “As such, we will take all appropriate legal action.

“We demand that you cease and desist immediately.”

Nistler identified a statement Mueller made during an interview with Ozaukee Press when, in explaining why she hired lawyers to represent her during an administrative investigation of the court system earlier this year, she said, “These were very serious allegations for Judge Voiland to make with no foundation whatsoever. I felt I needed representation.”

In an interview Tuesday, Mueller said she was referring to allegations of criminal misconduct Voiland made against her and two other court officials during a 16-month criminal probe of the court system that began in May 2016 when Voiland contacted the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation and alleged that court records had been falsified to undermine him, according to a 357-page report that became public in January.

That investigation ended abruptly in September 2017 without conclusions or recommendations. 

In February, Chief Judge of Wisconsin’s Third Judicial District Jennifer Dorow ordered an administrative probe of the court system conducted by former U.S. attorney and retired Dane County Judge Patrick Fiedler “to address recent reports and concerns related to court administration.”

Fiedler concluded in a report released in July, “I find that there is no basis to believe that anyone has violated Wis. Stat. 946.12 Misconduct in Public Office. There is also no basis to find that anyone has violated any other criminal statute.”

Mueller said this week she stands by her comment.

“I’m not retracting my statement,” she said. 

Last month, Voiland sued Dorow — the chief district judge who ordered the administrative investigation — accusing her of violating the state’s open records law and asking a judge to order her to release records related to the administrative probe.

In addition to a court order, Voiland is suing for punitive damages and legal fees.

The records dispute began in July, two weeks after Dorow released the findings of the administrative investigation, when Voiland’s attorney wrote to Director of State Courts Randy Koschnick requesting documents gathered during the investigation.

Voiland also requested records from Dorow, but the issue became bogged down over questions about what records he was seeking and from whom he was requesting them, according to correspondence between Voiland, his lawyer, Dorow and Koschnick that was filed with Voiland’s lawsuit.

Also last month, Voiland, through his attorney, demanded Ozaukee Press retract its reporting on the probe, accusing the newspaper of publishing libelous stories and headlines when it reported that the investigation determined Voiland’s claims that court officials committed felony misconduct in office were false.

Ozaukee Press rejected Voiland’s demand, which under Wisconsin law must be made before a libel lawsuit is filed. 

The lawyer representing Ozaukee Press, James Friedman of the Madison law firm Godfrey & Kahn, said the statements in news articles alleged by Voiland to be libelous are true. 

“We have reviewed your demand and the newspaper articles at issue,” Friedman wrote to Voiland’s attorney, “and we have determined that the identified statements in the articles are true. Hence, our clients do not intend to publish a retraction or correction.” 

The County Board found itself involved in the fallout from the court investigations earlier this month when it considered Mueller’s claim for legal fees. In a rare move, the board did not deny the claim as it does in most cases but instead referred it to the Public Safety Committee.

Supr. Patrick Marchese, chairman of the committee, declined to comment on the rationale for the committee’s recommendation Tuesday to deny the claim, noting that the committee met in closed session with the county’s attorney, Corporation Counsel Rhonda Gorden, prior to voting on the issue in open session.

Supr. Rick Nelson, a member of the committee, said Gorden made a convincing argument to deny Mueller’s claim.

Gorden has said that the county offered its employees legal representation during the administrative investigation from Milwaukee attorney Sam Hall, who was hired by the county’s insurance company. 

But Mueller said last month, “Yes, Sam Hall was hired to represent the county, but he wasn’t hired to represent me.”

After the committee reconvened into open session, it invited Mueller to comment on her claim. Then Voiland attempted to address the committee.

“He jumped up and asked if he could make a comment,” Marchese said. “I said no because the time for public comment had come and gone.”

Voiland, who last week filed paperwork indicating he is running for re-election in April, gave the committee a written statement, which it did not consider. In that statement, Voiland argued against reimbursing Mueller for $33,224 she paid lawyers to represent her during the investigation prompted by Voiland. 

“I never looked at it,” Marchese said of Voiland’s written statement. “I think he just gave it to the clerk and we moved on.”

It’s clear that officials are growing weary of the courthouse saga stemming from the investigations prompted by Voiland.

“I’ve lived in Ozaukee County for a long time, and I can tell you this is disheartening,” Marchese said.

Nelson said, “I’ve been a county supervisor for 18 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

The County Board is scheduled to consider Mueller’s claim again on Jan. 2.


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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.

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