Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

In re Judicial Disciplinary Proceedings Against Honorable Piontek

Supreme Court of Wisconsin

May 21, 2019

In the Matter of Judicial Disciplinary Proceedings Against the Honorable Michael J. Piontek:
v.
The Honorable Michael J. Piontek, Respondent. Wisconsin Judicial Commission, Complainant,

          Judicial disciplinary proceeding. Judge suspended from office.

         DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS AGAINST PIONTEK

          PER CURIAM.

         ¶1 We review, pursuant to Wis.Stat. § 757.91 (2015-2016), [1] a Judicial Conduct Panel's findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendation for discipline for Racine County Circuit Court Judge Michael J. Piontek. We conclude that a five-day suspension is the appropriate discipline for Judge Piontek's judicial misconduct.

         ¶2 At the time of the events in question, Judge Piontek had been a circuit court judge for Racine County for about two years. Before assuming the bench, Judge Piontek was a practicing lawyer for about 38 years, including time as a county prosecutor. Until this disciplinary matter, he had never been the subject of a complaint or grievance as an attorney or judge.

         ¶3 The Judicial Commission filed a complaint against Judge Piontek on June 5, 2018, alleging that he had engaged in judicial misconduct by his actions, described below, in presiding over two different criminal matters.

         ¶4 Judge Piontek filed a response to the complaint in which he generally admitted the allegations but alleged various mitigating circumstances.

         ¶5 Consistent with an order issued by the Judicial Conduct Panel, the parties filed briefs on the issue of the appropriate discipline to be imposed. After receiving these briefs, the panel made findings of fact and conclusions of law and recommended that this court suspend Judge Piontek between five and 15 days. This recommendation exceeded the disciplinary sanction that Judge Piontek suggested in his brief to the panel: a public reprimand. The panel's recommendation more closely followed the sanction proposed by the Judicial Commission, which suggested discipline ranging from a reprimand to a short suspension.

         ¶6 The facts involved in this matter are as follows.

         The S.S. Criminal Case

         ¶7 Between August 2014 and February 2015, Judge Piontek presided over a criminal case involving defendant S.S. Judge Piontek set the matter for a March 4, 2015 trial. Sometime before December 3, 2014, Judge Piontek received at his chambers an informal visit from the prosecutor assigned to the S.S. case; the prosecutor was seeking an adjournment of the trial.

         ¶8 On December 3, 2014, Judge Piontek telephoned the prosecutor, without including defense counsel in the call or giving defense counsel notice that he planned to make the call. During the three-minute-and-seven-second phone call, Judge Piontek told the prosecutor that he wanted S.S.'s trial to go forward on the scheduled trial date; that any plea negotiation should involve S.S. being convicted of a felony; and that people like S.S. who involve themselves "in scams like this" need to be stopped.

         ¶9 Judge Piontek never disclosed his December 3, 2014 conversation with the prosecutor to S.S. or S.S.'s attorney.

         ¶10 On or about January 29, 2015, the prosecutor sent a letter to defense counsel in which he summarized his account of the judge's December 3, 2014 phone call. Shortly thereafter, the prosecutor submitted a copy of the letter to Judge Piontek.

         ¶11 Only after receiving the prosecutor's letter did Judge Piontek recuse himself from handling the S.S. case.

         ¶12 During the pendency of the Judicial Commission's investigation into the S.S. matter, Judge Piontek at least twice denied the assertions made in the prosecutor's January 29, 2015 letter. In a September 18, 2015 response letter to the Judicial Commission, Judge Piontek denied that he initiated the December 3, 2014 phone call to the prosecutor, and denied making the statements attributed to him by the prosecutor. In a September 14, 2017 Response to Notice of Formal Proceedings, Judge Piontek denied that his ex parte conversation with the prosecutor involved discussions of plea negotiations. Only later, when he filed his response to the Judicial Commission's complaint, did Judge Piontek admit that he initiated the December 3, 2014 phone call. He further admitted making "off-handed comments about the manner in which he believed the case should be resolved."

         ¶13 The Judicial Commission's complaint alleged, and the Judicial Conduct Panel concluded, that Judge Piontek's contact with the prosecutor on December 3, 2014, constituted a willful violation of Supreme Court Rule (SCR) 60.04 (1) (g), [2] which prohibits ex parte communications concerning pending matters unless an exception exists under the law.

         ¶14 The Judicial Commission's complaint also alleged, and the Judicial Conduct Panel concluded, that Judge Piontek's contact violated his obligations:

• pursuant to SCR 60.02, [3] to participate in establishing, maintaining, and enforcing high standards of conduct and to personally observe those standards;
• pursuant to SCR 60.03(1), [4] to comply with the law and act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.