Winter issue of the Judicial Conduct Reporter

The winter issue of the Judicial Conduct Reporter has been published.  The issue has articles on:

  • State judicial discipline in 2019
  • Removal cases in 2019
  • Top judicial ethics and discipline stories of 2019
    Relationships, disqualification, and disclosure
    Political comments
    Sexual misconduct
  • What judges said that got them in trouble in 2019
    What they said to or about criminal defendants
    What they said to litigants in family court cases
    What they said to self-represented litigants
    What they said ex parte
    What they said to attorneys
    What they said to or about court staff
    What they said to or about other judges
    What they said in their personal lives
    What they said that abused the prestige of office

The article on “Relationships, disqualification, and disclosure” begins:  “Although judges are not automatically disqualified from cases involving someone they know, a judge’s duty to at least disclose a relationship is triggered  by ties far short of blood or marriage and far more often than judges may think, as several judicial discipline cases from 2019 illustrate.”  One of the first cases of 2020 also demonstrates that evident blind spot for some judges.

Adopting the findings of fact of a hearing panel, which were based on admissions, and agreeing with its conclusions, the Wisconsin Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a part-time court commissioner for failing to recuse himself from a small claims case in which a close friend appeared as an attorney or to at least disclose the relationship and for making angry and sarcastic comments to the self-represented defendant in the trial of the case.  In the Matter of Gorski (Wisconsin Supreme Court January 30, 2020).

The commissioner and Timothy Gebert:

  • Had known each other for approximately 20 years,
  • Socialize at least once a month,
  • Went on 4 overseas vacation trips together with other individuals between 2015 and 2018, and
  • Frequently take overnight golfing trips together, locally and in other parts of the U.S.

In September 2015, during a pretrial conference the commissioner scheduled a trial in a small claims case for November 18.  Gebert represented the plaintiff; the defendant, a non-lawyer, represented himself.

In October, the commissioner, Gebert, the commissioner’s son, and a fourth person went on a week-long golfing trip to Ireland.  In November, the judge presided over the trial in the small claims case without disclosing the trip or his friendship with Gebert to the defendant.

During the trial, the commissioner lost his temper with the defendant.  He said, “Stop, now, just stop with that!  Jesus . . . .  Come on.  That’s getting old, that’s getting really old.”  Later in the trial, the commissioner audibly groaned at something the defendant said and then asked, “Why can’t you just be quiet when other people are talking?”

After the commissioner ruled, the defendant asserted that the verdict was an example of corruption.  The commissioner groaned again and then responded, “That’s my middle name . . . corruption.”  The commissioner admitted that his comments were angry and sarcastic.

After the Commission notified the commissioner that it was investigating his failure to recuse himself in the small claims case, the commissioner presided over a pretrial conference in another case in which Gebert represented a party and the other party was self-represented.  While that case was pending before him, the commissioner went with Gebert and others to Vietnam.  During the disciplinary investigation, the commissioner told the Commission that Gebert had appeared before him 6 or 7 times.

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