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Wisconsin judicial commission rejects complaints filed over court director firing

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Posted at 6:49 PM, Jan 12, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-12 19:49:37-05

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Judicial Commission this week dismissed complaints filed by the former state courts director after he was fired by four liberal justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, documents released to The Associated Press on Thursday show.

Three of the four targeted justices fired back Thursday, accusing the former court director who filed the complaints of breaking the law by making them public. By law, complaints before the commission must remain confidential unless the target of the investigation makes it public.

Randy Koschnick filed the complaints against each of the justices who fired him in August. He also filed a complaint against the person who replaced him, former Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Audrey Skwierawski. Koschnick talked about the complaints publicly at the time.

The commission should have admonished Koschnick or taken other disciplinary action against him, liberal justices Rebecca Dallet, Jill Karofsky and Janet Protasiewicz wrote in a letter they provided to the AP.

Koschnick said Thursday that he thinks he had a First Amendment right to talk about his complaint. He said he had a "civil and moral obligation" to file the complaint.

"There is no basis for discipline," Koschnick told the AP. "I did nothing wrong."

Koschnick alleged in his complaint that Skwierawski cannot legally take office until July 2025 because the state constitution prohibits judges from holding nonjudicial offices until their terms end.

But the commission's executive director, Jeremiah Van Hecke, said in a letter to each of the four justices that the commission determined there was no misconduct in hiring Skwierawski. In a letter to Skwierawski's attorney, Van Hecke said the commission was dismissing the complaint, as she resigned her position as judge on Dec. 31 and is no longer subject to the commission's jurisdiction.

Skwierawski's attorney, Matthew O'Neill, said in a Thursday letter back to the judicial commission that Skwierawski was waiving confidentiality of the complaint to clear her name.

"She is gratified and vindicated by the Commission's confirmation that her decision to serve the people of Wisconsin as interim Director of State Courts was legally, constitutionally and ethically sound," O'Neill wrote.

Skwierawski declined to comment.

The justices, in their letter to the commission, accused Koschnick of engaging in a publicity stunt by making his complaints public. Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, who was the subject of a complaint that was dismissed, did not join her three colleagues in the letter back.

"Judge Koschnick's antics were nothing more than a partisan attempt to undermine the court's authority to hire his successor," Justices Dallet, Protasiewicz and Karofsky wrote.

By not taking action against Koschnick, the commission "will allow itself to continue to be an arrow in the quiver of partisan activists, reducing the public's confidence in the judiciary.," the three justices wrote.

The director of state courts is Wisconsin's top nonjudicial court official and advises the Supreme Court on improving court processes while also overseeing court budgets and operations.

Koschnick, a former judge, was appointed to the role in 2017 by a conservative majority of the court.

The justices voted in December to make Skwierawski, who was initially named as the interim court director, the permanent director.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court flipped to liberal control in August after Protasiewicz's victory in the April election.

The new liberal majority immediately set to work making sweeping changes, including voting to vastly reduce the powers of the conservative chief justice and last month tossing Republican-drawn legislative maps.