UPDATE: Concerns over Kaukauna municipal court have been simmering for months

UPDATE: Pay and court staffing add to conflict between Kaukauna officials and municipal judge

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KAUKAUNA — Kaukauna city leaders are accusing the municipal judge of ethics violations after they say she hired her sister as a clerk and posted an inappropriate message on Facebook.

In a news release Wednesday, City Attorney Kevin Davidson, Mayor Tony Penterman and the Kaukauna City Council said they were concerned over two recent incidents involving Municipal Court Judge Carley Windorff.

READ THE FULL NEWS RELEASE

Although the city has no authority to remove Windorff for misconduct, Davidson said they have referred the matter to the Wisconsin Judicial Commission for review and further investigation. 

Windorff says she is prohibited by Supreme Court rules from commenting on the investigation.

“Pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 20:3.6 (Trial publicity), as an attorney I am ethically prohibited from commenting on the investigation or litigation of a matter,” she wrote in an email to Kaukauna Community News.

“I’m surprised Attorney Davidson didn’t believe he was subject to that rule as well,” she added.

Davidson said that In July of this year, Windorff appointed an immediate family member to temporarily fill the municipal court clerk position and didn’t disclose it to the city.

That came after former Court Clerk Heidi Murphy’s resignation was approved by the Finance and Personnel Committee on July 5, 2022.

While the City of Kaukauna has a nepotism policy, Davidson said, the hiring of an immediate family member is prohibited by the Wisconsin Supreme Court Code of Judicial Conduct – ethics rules applicable to all judges in the State.

Then on Sept. 14, 2022, Davidson said that Windorff publicly posted to Facebook an inappropriate message containing explicit language that demeans and disparages authority, the judiciary, law enforcement and government.

City leaders say the post undermines public confidence that Windorff may be an impartial jurist. 

“The City Attorney’s Office, Mayor Penterman, and the Kaukauna Common Council unanimously denounce the posting as not reflective of the attitudes or sentiment of City leadership, and unbecoming of the office of the Municipal Judge,” read the news release.

Davidson said that until they hear from the Judicial Commission, the city will divert all matters otherwise coming before the court for alternative disposition, and his office will be removing active cases to an alternate jurisdiction pending further notice.

The news release goes on to say that Windorff’s public Facebook statement was an insult to all of us as civic leaders, to our men and women in law enforcement, and to the citizens of Kaukauna.


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By Dan Plutchak

Dan Plutchak, born and raised in Kaukauna, is cofounder of Kaukauna Community News.