KAUKAUNA — Despite calls by the city attorney for Kaukauna’s embattled municipal judge to recuse herself, she so far has declined to do so and little has changed in the day-to-day operation of the city’s municipal court.

A request by City Attorney Kevin Davidson for Municipal Judge Carly Windorff to recuse herself comes after the city filed a complaint last month with the Wisconsin Judicial Commission over alleged ethics violations by the judge.

However Windorff has declined to recuse herself, according to Davidson.

In a news release last month, city officials accused Windorff of judicial misconduct after they say she hired her sister as a clerk in violation of ethics rules applicable to all judges in the state and posted an inappropriate message on Facebook.

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

In the news release, Davidson said that until they hear from the Judicial Commission, the city had planned to 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.

However, the city is still working on those alternative arrangements, Davidson said last week.

For matters that are already in the municipal court system, such as cases set for pre-trial conferences or scheduled for trial before the court, the city attorney’s office has requested that Windorff recuse herself from those cases due to her direct conflict with the city attorney’s office.

“She has openly stated that there is a dispute between my office and the court, and she is accordingly required to recuse herself under SCR § 60.04(4)(a),” Davidson said in an email last week. “These cases would then be assigned to another nearby municipal court by the Eighth Judicial District.”

Outagamie county Clerk of Circuit Court Barb Bocik said no cases currently have been forwarded to Outagamie County Circuit Court.

According to Davidson, the municipal court’s jurisdiction is limited to violations of municipal ordinances for which the penalty is forfeiture only. 

These would generally be matters such as non-criminal traffic offenses, property condition/nuisance violations, building/fire code violations and a host of minor behavioral offenses such as disorderly disturbances (non-physical altercations), curfew violations and liquor license violations. 

For police issued citations, Davidson said the city does not have the ability to use direct enforcement and continues to explore options to work with an alternative court for those that would otherwise come before the current judge.

The city does have the option in certain cases to bring a speeding ticket or disorderly conduct citation either as a municipal code violation to the municipal court, or as a state law violation to the Outagamie County Circuit Court.

Currently these types of citations continue to be issued as municipal citations and are being referred to the municipal court for disposition while the city explores the options and logistics of utilizing the circuit court, Davidson said.

For other matters, Davidson said city officials work toward compliance, rather than collecting fines.

When contacted by Kaukauna Community News, Windorff said she is working on a comment regarding the request for her to recuse herself. This story will be updated when we receive a response.

The city’s complaint to the Wisconsin Judicial Commission is just the latest in a long simmering dispute between city officials and Windorff.

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

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.

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.

(READ MORE: Pay and court staffing add to conflict between Kaukauna officials and municipal judge)

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.

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.

No timeline has been given for a determination by the Wisconsin Judicial Commission.

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

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

(PREVIOUSLY: Pay and court staffing add to conflict between Kaukauna officials and municipal judge)

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By Dan Plutchak

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