Voiland’s misconduct allegations declared false

Rather than criminal wrongdoing, court probe finds communication problem that officials blame on judge who made accusations
By 
BILL SCHANEN IV
Ozaukee Press staff

A second investigation of the Ozaukee County Court system has found that accusations leveled by Judge Joseph Voiland    against a fellow judge and two other court officials he claimed committed felony misconduct in office while conspiring to subvert his career are false.

“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,” Patrick Fiedler, a former U.S. attorney and longtime Dane County circuit judge who conducted the administrative investigation, wrote in a report released last week.

But what Fiedler did find during his investigation, which was ordered by Chief Judge of the Third Judicial District Jennifer Dorow in February, was a stunning lack of communication between Voiland and other court officials, especially those he accused of misconduct — Presiding Judge Paul Malloy, Clerk of Courts Mary Lou Mueller and Circuit Court Commissioner Barry Boline.

In his report, Fiedler suggests that nearly two years of investigations prompted by Voiland’s accusations could have been avoided if the officials involved discussed the issues.

“There is a serious communication problem between Judge Voiland and other Ozaukee County court officials,” Fiedler wrote.  “This communication problem has resulted in a lack of trust which has affected the administration of the court system.

“While conducting this investigation and in preparing this report, I often wondered why the people involved did not meet in person to discuss these issues.

“As a fair and impartial, neutral and detached outsider and former judge, I question how this situation could have evolved to the extent that it has.”

Judge Sandy Williams said the communication problem lies with Voiland.

“When I see him I will absolutely try to talk to him. The problem is he’s never around,” Williams said, adding that Voiland no longer participates in monthly meetings at which the county’s judges and typically the district chief judge discuss administrative issues. 

“I see Paul (Malloy) and Barry (Boline) and Mary Lou (Mueller) all the time, but I never see him (Voiland),” she said. 

Had Voiland talked with other court officials, Williams said, the expensive, time-consuming investigations he sparked could have been avoided.

“The way in which (Voiland) went about getting simple questions answered was just so unproductive,” she said. “How much of the taxpayers’ money was spent because he didn’t know how to talk to people?”

Malloy echoed Williams’ comments about Voiland’s unwillingness to communicate with other officials, saying, “My door is always open, but Joe (Voiland) is just not very communicative with me. I think he thinks we’re all ganging up against him.”

Malloy said Fiedler’s report is a welcome, although not surprising, repudiation of Voiland’s accusations.

“He (Fiedler) confirmed what I thought from the very beginning, that there was never any criminal wrongdoing, nothing nefarious and no effort to undermine anybody,” he said.

Malloy described Voiland’s accusations as unprecedented.

“I can’t recall a situation where a sitting judge has accused another sitting judge, the court commissioner and clerk of courts of criminal conduct,” he said. “That’s a big deal.”

Voiland, who unseated longtime Branch 2 Judge Tom Wolfgram in the April 2013 election with a campaign that focused on Wolfgram’s signing of the Gov. Scott Walker recall petition, responded to a request for comment with an email that read, “The report issued last week is designated ‘confidential,’ and I believe certain matters at issue are pending. I have no comment to offer you.”

Dorow authorized release of the report last week and wrote in an email, “Although the report was sent to me with a cover page that says ‘confidential,’ I consider the report to be a public record at this point.”

The administrative investigation ordered  by Dorow came on the heels of a 16-month criminal probe sparked in May 2016 when Voiland contacted the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) and alleged that court records had been falsified to undermine him and accused Malloy, Mueller and Boline of criminal misconduct.

That investigation was abruptly closed in September 2017 without conclusions or recommendations after Voiland stopped cooperating with agents.

The administrative probe that followed concluded that Malloy and Boline acted properly in cases flagged by Voiland.

Voiland’s accusation focused in large part on changes made to electronic court records in the Wisconsin Consolidated Court Automation Programs (CCAP) case management system and how Mueller, who also serves as the county’s register in probate, classified and handled probate cases.

In response to Voiland’s claims that records had been intentionally falsified and that Mueller abused her power, Fiedler found that Mueller had “reasonable” explanations for some of her actions. In other cases, mistakes, one of which he described as an “innocent error” by a deputy clerk, were made but Mueller “has taken appropriate measures to correct past errors and to ensure that court records are accurate going forward,” Fiedler wrote in his report.

He concluded that there was no attempt by Malloy, Mueller or Boline to “usurp the authority of Judge Voiland.”

One of the cases Voiland told investigators he was concerned about was a civil matter in which Malloy freed a woman Voiland had jailed in 2015.

The case involved a petition for a restraining order filed by the father of Leah Marie Goodman’s daughter, who was seeking a court order preventing Goodman from having contact with her. 

During an Aug. 25, 2015, hearing, Voiland ordered the woman held in jail because he believed she had lied under oath.

That resulted in a rare writ of habeas corpus — a protection against illegal detention rooted in English common law — filed by public defender Rachel Boaz on Goodman’s behalf.

The day after Voiland ordered the woman jailed, Malloy heard arguments from Boaz and agreed that Voiland did not state on the record a reason for Goodman’s incarceration, such as contempt of court or lying under oath, nor did he set bail for her or schedule a future hearing, contrary to her constitutional rights. 

Malloy freed the woman immediately.

“Judges in this county are not in the business of keeping people jailed indefinitely,” he said during the hearing.

During the administrative investigation, Malloy told Fiedler that after being assigned the habeas corpus case he attempted to discuss it with Voiland, but Voiland was not in the courthouse.

“I conclude that Judge Malloy acted properly in ordering the release of Leah Goodman because Malloy did not believe that there was any legal authority to hold her,” Fiedler wrote in his report.

In another civil case, Voiland told investigators, Boline dragged his feet when Voiland ordered him to have a child custody and placement study done after Malloy asked Boline to hold off on the order.

Custody studies were seldom ordered in Ozaukee County, and at the time the County Board was working on but did not yet have in place an ordinance that designated which department would conduct the studies or a fee schedule that would allow the county to recoup the cost of the studies.

In a June 7, 2016, email to Voiland regarding the 2009 case, Boline wrote, “As you know, Ozaukee County has yet to enact an ordinance regarding reimbursement for the cost of the studies. Judge Malloy has suggested a moratorium on ordering studies until the ordinance is passed. Of course, if you want me to order the studies now, I will do so.” 

Shortly after Boline emailed Voiland, the two talked in person about the order to conduct the study. Voiland turned a recording of that conversation, along with 41 electronic documents, over to DCI agents conducting the criminal investigation.

Fiedler concluded that Boline was left in an “untenable position” after receiving conflicting instructions from Voiland and Malloy.

Regarding Malloy, Fiedler wrote that he “was not trying to usurp the authority of Judge Voiland but was attempting to maintain a good relationship with the County Board and working toward the passage of a county ordinance.

“I find that Judge Voiland did have the authority to order a custody study but should have been more cognizant of the importance of the county judiciary maintaining a good relationship with the County Board.”

Several of Voiland’s accusations focused on Mueller’s handling of cases, particularly probate cases, including one in which Mueller erased a CCAP entry for a review hearing before Voiland after noticing it had already been scheduled for a hearing before Boline. When Voiland noticed this, he instructed to Mueller to put the hearing back on his calender, which she did, according to Fiedler’s report.

Mueller told Fiedler that Ozaukee County judges who assumed the bench before Voiland was elected assigned her the task of managing both informal probate cases — uncontested cases that are typically managed by the register in probate — and formal, or contested probate cases, which are handled by the court commissioner and judges. In doing so, Mueller said, she would grant hearing extensions.

Fiedler concluded that Voiland was correct when he alleged Mueller improperly erased the hearing date.

“Instead, Mueller should have consulted with Judge Voiland, advised him that a review hearing was already scheduled before Commissioner Boline, and asked Voiland if he still wanted to conduct his own review hearing,” Fiedler wrote. “This was a decision to be made by Judge Voiland and not by Mary Lou Mueller.

“I also find that Mueller took this action based upon her belief that this was the more efficient course to take and not because she was attempting to usurp the authority of Judge Voiland.”

Voiland also accused Mueller of back-dating cases. 

“Judge Voiland stated Mary Lou Mueller had falsified a document, essentially making Judge Voiland look bad and look as if he was sitting on cases,” a DCI agent wrote in the report that resulted from the criminal investigation.

Mueller told Fiedler that when Voiland’s rotation as probate judge began on Aug. 1, 2014, he wanted to make sure all probate cases were assigned to him. Nearly two years later, she discovered a probate case that originated on Aug. 1, 2014, assigned it to Voiland and backdated it to reflect when it was filed, although initially she backdated it to the wrong month.

Fiedler said Mueller’s explanation was reasonable and noted, “As an aside, the siltation described by Judge Voiland also happened to me on occasion when I was a judge and an older case was assigned to me.”

Among Voiland’s other concerns was that statutory fees collected by the court system were not being segregated into a separate account maintained by the county treasurer as required by law. 

Mueller said she has consulted with Malloy and Ozaukee County Corporation Counsel Rhonda Gorden and all three of them believe the fees collected by the court system are being handled properly.

Fiedler agreed but recommended the Office of State Courts conduct an audit “to have full confidence in the procedure,” he wrote in his report.

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