Kaukauna Municipal Services Building, photo by Kaukauna Community News
Kaukauna Municipal Services Building, photo by Kaukauna Community News

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

UPDATE: City leaders accuse Kaukauna municipal judge of ethics violations

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KAUKAUNA — The operations of Kaukauna’s municipal court have been a cause of concern for months, a review of city council documents show.

Even before news broke Wednesday that recent actions of Municipal Court Judge Carley Windorff were being referred to the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, Mayor Tony Penterman had brought up concerns over the operations of the municipal court to the common council.

In a letter submitted to the council at its Aug. 2 regular meeting, Penterman wrote that there has been increase in complaints from the public around the lack of customer service the municipal court has been providing.

Because of this, other staff has been fielding calls that they haven’t been able to answer. Some of these calls have been bounced around to city staff and ended up in a voicemail box of many different departments. Some have been returned in a reasonable time while others haven’t.

Penterman proposed a series of improvements to municipal court operations, but at the Aug. 2 council meeting, City Attorney Kevin Davidson said that the operation of the court is beyond the authority of the council, according to minutes of the meeting.

In a 14-page memo from Judge Windorff to the council obtained by Kaukauna Community News, Windorff said she believed that an immediate increase to the salary of the judge, increase to the hours of the court clerk, and the addition of a bailiff, would empower the court to better serve our community.

In the memo, she requested that:

  1. The governing body clarify whether it is their intention to move the
    municipal judge’s office and change the setup of municipal courtroom.
  2. The municipal judge annual stipend be increased to $91,000.
  3. The hours of court clerk be increased to 30-32 hours.
  4. A bailiff or armed guard be provided for court sessions pursuant to Wis.
    Stat. 755.17(2).

Windorff currently makes $11,499 for the elected position.

In a staff memo responding to Windorff’s request, they recommended no increase in salary or court clerk hours, but did agree to providing a bailiff.

Nothing else had been discussed publicly since then until the allegations this week of alleged ethics violations by Windorff.

In a its release Wednesday, City Attorney Kevin Davidson, Mayor Tony Penterman and the Kaukauna City Council said they were concerned over two recent incidents involving 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 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 said her Facebook post undermines public confidence that Windorff may be an impartial jurist. 


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By Dan Plutchak

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