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

KAUKAUNA — Even as city leaders filed a complaint this week with the Wisconsin Judicial Commission for alleged ethics violations of its municipal judge, pay and court staffing have been simmering issues behind the scenes.

Following concerns raised in August by Mayor Tony Penterman over lack of consistent customer service in Kaukauna’s municipal court, Judge Carley Windorff proposed a restructuring plan that included a jump in her pay from roughly $11,000 to more that $90,000 a year for the part-time, elected position.

(READ MORE: City leaders accuse Kaukauna municipal judge of ethics violations)

In a 14-page memo sent to Penterman on Sept. 14 and 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.

The memo included four areas Windorff recommended, including a raise in pay to $91,000 per year, an increase in hours for the court clerk to 30-32 hours, the addition of a bailiff for security and clarification over moving the judge’s office.

In her memo, Windorff compared the judge salary with city department heads and noted it is the lowest. She also
compares the municipal judge salary with circuit court judges who she notes make roughly $155,023 per year, which she calculates to be $75/hour.

(READ MORE: Concerns over Kaukauna municipal court have been simmering for months)

But in a staff memo responding to Windorff obtained by Kaukauna Community News, staff said that the comparison of judge to private attorney or circuit court judge which have vastly different qualifications is not a fair comparison.

Staff also said the judge is an elected position and does not have the workload or expectations of a hired department head.

Staff recommended that the existing workload of municipal court does not support the significant increase in pay that Windorff is suggesting.

The staff memo also said the workload doesn’t justify an increase in hours for the court clerk as well.

They did agree to a add a bailiff for security, and the judge’s office move appears to have been resolved, according to the memo.

It’s unclear if the negotiations over pay and staffing are in anyway linked to the news this week that the city has filed an ethics complaint against Windorff with the Wisconsin Judicial Commission.

Apparently an image allegedly posted Sept. 14, 2022 to the Windorff Law LLC public Facebook page was the tipping point.

That’s when Windorff is accused of publicly posting to Facebook an inappropriate message containing explicit language that city officials said 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.

City Attorney Kevin Davidson also alleged in the news release 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, in violation of the Wisconsin Supreme Court Code of Judicial Conduct – ethics rules applicable to all judges in the state.

When reached for comment, 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 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.

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By Dan Plutchak

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