In the Matter of Judicial Disciplinary Proceedings Against the Honorable Leonard D. Kachinsky:
The Honorable Leonard D. Kachinsky, Respondent. Wisconsin Judicial Commission, Complainant,
disciplinary proceeding. Judge suspended from eligibility for
reserve judge status with condition.
the complainant, there were briefs filed by Jeremiah Van
Hecke and The Wisconsin Judicial Commission, . Madison.
the respondent, there was a brief filed by Leonard D.
We review, pursuant to Wis.Stat. § 757.91 (2017-18),
judicial conduct panel's findings of fact, conclusions of
law, and recommendation for discipline for the Honorable
Leonard D. Kachinsky, a former municipal judge for the
Village of Fox Crossing Municipal Court. We conclude that
Judge Kachinsky's judicial misconduct warrants a
three-year suspension of eligibility for the position of
reserve municipal judge, commencing July 3, 2018, with the
condition that before requesting an appointment by the chief
judge to serve as a reserve municipal judge, Judge Kachinsky
must successfully petition this court to establish his
fitness to serve in that capacity.
Beginning in 1997, Judge Kachinsky served as a municipal
judge for 21 years, first for the Town of Menasha Municipal
Court and then for the Village of Fox Crossing Municipal
Court. On July 3, 2018, this court, in the exercise of its
superintending and administrative authority over the courts
of this state, issued an order prohibiting Judge Kachinsky
from exercising the powers of a municipal judge until further
order of this court. Judge Kachinsky did not seek reelection
in the 2019 spring election. Consequently, his term as the
Village of Fox Crossing Municipal Judge expired on April 30,
2019. Judge Kachinsky's years of service would ordinarily
render him eligible to serve as a reserve municipal judge
pursuant to Wis.Stat. § 800.065.
The Wisconsin Judicial Commission originally received an
ethics complaint concerning Judge Kachinsky in June 2017.
When the Commission notified Judge Kachinsky that it was
investigating allegations of possible misconduct a few weeks
later, it advised him that he should "scrupulously avoid
retaliatory conduct or witness intimidation."
On April 4, 2018, the Judicial Commission filed a formal
complaint against Judge Kachinsky in this court. The Judicial
Commission's complaint alleged multiple violations of the
Code of Judicial Conduct (Chapter 60 of the Supreme Court
Rules (SCR)). Judge Kachinsky's answer admitted many of
the factual allegations in the complaint, but denied others
or offered explanations for his conduct. The Judicial
Commission filed an amended complaint in September 2018, in
response to which Judge Kachinsky filed an amended answer.
After the initial complaint had been filed, this court
referred the matter to the chief judge of the court of
appeals, who appointed three members of the court of appeals
to serve as the Judicial Conduct Panel. See
Wis.Stat. § 757.87(3). The Panel conducted an
evidentiary hearing on February 7-8, 2019. The Judicial
Commission called a number of employees of the Village of Fox
Crossing as witnesses. Judge Kachinsky represented himself
and testified at the hearing.
Following the hearing, the Panel issued its Findings of Fact,
Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation. This court ordered
the parties to file simultaneous opening briefs and response
briefs regarding the Panel's findings and conclusions.
The parties did so.
The allegations of judicial misconduct in this matter fall
under three headings. Most of the allegations of misconduct
relate to Judge Kachinsky's interactions with M.B., the
full-time manager for the Village of Fox Crossing Municipal
Court. The second category of allegations are related to an
email that Judge Kachinsky sent to a member of the village
board regarding his interactions with members of the village
administration and the village's filing of a complaint
with the Judicial Commission. The third category of
allegations relates to an email that Judge Kachinsky sent to
the village's police chief regarding a case that was
pending before him. Judge Kachinsky sent copies of that email
to the village's attorney and a police records clerk, but
did not send a copy to the defendant or defense counsel or
otherwise notify the defendant that he had sent the email.
The Village of Fox Crossing Municipal Court holds court
sessions lasting approximately 90-120 minutes approximately
three times per month on Thursday evenings. There are only
two individuals who worked at the municipal court during the
relevant time period. Judge Kachinsky held the part-time
elected position as municipal court judge. M.B. was the
full-time court manager, whose position was supervised by
Judge Kachinsky. The municipal court judge and the court
manager shared a small office in the Village of Fox Crossing
Prior to the events at issue in this proceeding, when a
different person was the court manager, Judge Kachinsky was
physically in the municipal court offices on a very limited
basis, usually only arriving shortly before court sessions
were to begin and leaving shortly after the court sessions
Following the retirement of the prior court manager, Judge
Kachinsky hired M.B. as the court manager in the spring of
2016. At the beginning of M.B.'s employment, she and
Judge Kachinsky would have occasional conversations about
their personal lives and developed a friendship. They also
engaged in occasional joint activities outside of work, such
as going on a few runs in September and October 2016 that
Judge Kachinsky labelled "Judge K Challenge Runs."
Even before M.B. was hired as the municipal court manager,
she and Judge Kachinsky had been "friends" on the
Facebook social media website. Each had hundreds of
"friends" on that website, including a number of
Judge Kachinsky experienced serious medical problems from May
2016 to February 2017, which caused him at times to be
hospitalized. During this time period, Judge Kachinsky and
M.B. communicated about both work issues and other personal
matters in what the Judicial Conduct Panel describes as
"a mutually friendly and supportive fashion." In
January 2017, M.B.'s mother, B.S., sent Judge Kachinsky a
get well card. Judge Kachinsky subsequently became Facebook
"friends" with B.S.
The interactions between Judge Kachinsky and M.B. became
strained beginning in March 2017 due to a couple of incidents
that M.B. found concerning. First, in a public comment to a
post on M.B.'s Facebook page, Judge Kachinsky stated that
M.B. was "on her second honeymoon" at "an
undisclosed location." M.B. informed Judge Kachinsky
that his comment had been incorrect, and he apologized. When
M.B. was back at work a few days later, Judge Kachinsky and a
friend arrived at the municipal court office while M.B. was
out of the office. Judge Kachinsky then hid behind a counter.
When M.B. returned to the office, he popped up and shouted
"roar," which startled M.B. During this visit,
Judge Kachinsky was sufficiently loud and boisterous that his
conduct disturbed nearby village employees. In addition, a
"selfie" picture was taken during the visit.
Following the visit, Judge Kachinsky sent M.B. an email, in
which he stated that he hoped his visit had made her day and
that the visit was something he was "more than happy to
do for my best friends." M.B. was disturbed by Judge
Approximately two weeks later, Judge Kachinsky asked M.B. to
be in additional pictures of them and the office/courtroom.
M.B. declined the request.
Having become concerned with Judge Kachinsky's conduct
toward her, M.B. sent an email to Judge Kachinsky on April
18, 2017, in which she stated that it would help her focus on
her job if they kept their relationship work-related. Judge
Kachinsky, however, did not want to limit their relationship
to matters concerning M.B.'s job. In an April 20, 2017
email, he agreed to minimize discussion of non-business
matters during business hours. He indicated that he wanted to
continue having discussions about matters in their everyday
personal lives. That same day Judge Kachinsky sent two
additional emails to M.B. The first stated, among other
things, that he really liked to stop by the office at least
once a week. The second email, sent later in the afternoon,
indicated that Judge Kachinsky had stopped by the municipal
court office that day and stated that "[i]t was nice to
talk with you in person today." The very next day Judge
Kachinsky sent yet another email. In that email Judge
Kachinsky expressed that he had been upset because he sensed
a problem in their relationship, but that when he had stopped
by the office the day before, it had been "like old
times." He continued that "[i]t is complicated
because I am both the boss and a close friend."
On Saturday, April 22, 2017, Judge Kachinsky sent M.B. an
email stating that he would not bring in treats to the office
except on birthdays because M.B. had expressed concern about
having recently gained some weight while on a trip.
Three days later Judge Kachinsky told M.B. that he knew her
mother had visited her house the preceding weekend because he
had seen her mother's location on a "Nearby
Friends" application on Facebook. Judge Kachinsky
testified at the evidentiary hearing that he had not
intentionally sought this information, which had
automatically appeared on his cell phone, and that he had
told M.B. about it so that she could make her mother aware
that her cell phone was broadcasting information about her
location to others on the Facebook website. The disclosure of
this information, however, was upsetting to M.B. The Judicial
Conduct Panel noted that M.B. became visibly upset when
describing this event during the evidentiary hearing.
That same day Judge Kachinsky sent M.B. another email stating
that he was "always open to resuming the Judge K
Challenge [Runs] if it fits in your schedule once a month or
so." He continued that "[t]he exercise is good but
the personal rapport aspect of it is actually more
Judge Kachinsky's emails and his disclosure about knowing
the location of M.B.'s mother upset M.B. sufficiently
that they led her to lodge a complaint against Judge
Kachinsky with the village's Human Resources Manager,
Lisa Malone. After the complaint, the Village Manager,
Jeffrey Sturgell, had a telephone conversation with Judge
Kachinsky in which he advised Judge Kachinsky that M.B. was
overwhelmed by Judge Kachinsky's non-work communications.
Sturgell believed that Judge Kachinsky agreed to change his
behavior because he did not want to lose M.B. as an employee.
On May 4, 2017, the day after Sturgell spoke with Judge
Kachinsky, Malone met with Judge Kachinsky and M.B. Malone
explained to Judge Kachinsky the concerns with his behavior.
During the meeting the participants developed a number of
guidelines, including that no personal information about
colleagues would be shared on social media, that all phone
and email communications would be related to business
matters, and that Judge Kachinsky would limit his visits to
the office to one time per week.
The Judicial Conduct Panel found that at the conclusion of
this meeting it should have been clear to Judge Kachinsky
that he was expected to limit his communications with M.B. to
work-related matters. Judge Kachinsky, however, ignored the
guidelines that had been developed. Indeed, his subsequent
conduct indicated that he was upset as a result of the
meeting and was determined to express his displeasure to M.B.
and to reject any limitation on communications to
On the following Monday, just three days after the meeting,
Judge Kachinsky sent M.B. an email that began with personal
information about what Judge Kachinsky had done over the
On three occasions during that week, Judge Kachinsky came to
the municipal court offices. He sat close to M.B.'s desk,
facing her. He did nothing except tap his pen and make
"cat noises." On one visit, Judge Kachinsky
continued this extremely odd behavior for 45 minutes. During
one of the visits, Judge Kachinsky also told M.B. a story
about a dog being raped and then repeated the story a second
On Thursday of that week, Judge Kachinsky sent an email to
M.B. discussing their personal relationship that made it
clear he would not abide by any work-related limitations. He
claimed that "some short general conversation about
interpersonal difficulties is really work related as we have
to get along well as personal and professional friends to do
our best." He also referenced an evaluation of M.B. that
he would be completing in the next week.
On Thursday, May 24, 2017, Judge Kachinsky sent another email
to M.B., in which he inquired about having a party to
celebrate his overcoming a medical problem that the two of
them had discussed at the end of 2016. M.B. replied that they
did not need to have a meeting about such a party, but Judge
Kachinsky continued to ask for her input about such a party,
including through an email sent to her home email account. In
that same email, Judge Kachinsky again brought up their
personal relationship, acknowledging that it was strained,
which concerned him. He asked if there was something either
of them could do that would "bring back the happy
relationship that existed from May 2016-March 2017."
M.B. sent a response email that having Judge Kachinsky come
into the office to discuss plans for this party "puts me
on the spot," which she did not want. This prompted a
reply from Judge Kachinsky. In the reply, Judge Kachinsky
acknowledged that he had made her uncomfortable and lamented
the loss of their discussions of personal matters: "I
miss the short discussions we had on how our households
functioned and other things that friends talk about. I hope I
have not blown that forever." Early the next day, which
was the Friday prior to Memorial Day, Judge Kachinsky sent
another email stating that he had decided not to have the
party, but suggesting that they and their families could have
a "get-together" at some point over the summer.
That same day, Village Manager Sturgell learned of Judge
Kachinsky's ongoing attempts to initiate personal,
non-work conversations with M.B. Sturgell and the
village's attorney had a telephone conversation with
Judge Kachinsky, explained potential violations of the
village's policy prohibiting harassment in the workplace,
advised him of the need to maintain professional decorum at
work, and told him to cease communicating with M.B. about
Judge Kachinsky sent M.B. an email over the ensuing weekend,
in which he stated that he wanted to "hit the reset
button." He claimed that it had not been clear to him
that M.B. wished to avoid after-hours activities with him. He
stated that he now understood, but he chastised M.B. for not
telling him directly. He then expressed that he still
believed discussion of personal matters was necessary:
My main concern is that a "work only" discussion
policy should not preclude normal "water cooler"
discussion of things like the Packers, Badgers, child
graduations, children having children, recent vacation
adventures, etc. I need to know what you consider to be
"over the line." . . . Walking on eggshells during
what should be relaxed casual conversations is not good for
productivity or mental health. Your ideas on this are
Kachinsky also complained about the fact that M.B. had
"defriended" him on Facebook, encouraged her to
reverse that decision, and stated that he wanted to
"start over" with "new rules." He claimed
that being able to view her personal Facebook page allowed
him to know what was going on in her life that might impact
her job performance and avoided the need for him to ask her
"the usual question about how vacation or the weekend
When Village Manager Sturgell learned of Judge
Kachinsky's email over the Memorial Day weekend, he sent
a letter to Judge Kachinsky pointing out that he had violated
the village's direction not to discuss the personal
relationship with M.B. and reminding him that he was not to
engage in any communications with her that went beyond work
Approximately two weeks later Judge Kachinsky sent an email
to M.B. entitled "Rule Violation." Judge Kachinsky
acknowledged that the email "violate[d] every principle
we have talked about regarding office conduct the last few
weeks," but that he was sending it despite that fact.
The email continued, "Feel free to report me to HR. I
feel spunky this morning."
Judge Kachinsky's focus on his relationship with M.B.
continued. On June 22, 2017, he sent another email to her
suggesting that they "have a beer or wine summit ... to
discuss the relationship issue." He suggested this
"summit" would be an occasion to "end the
strict restrictions on no non-work related discussions and
replace it with use of respect and common sense."
Two days later Judge Kachinsky sent yet another email to M.B.
This time, however, he sent it to her personal email account
because it involved some personal items and he wanted to
"keep it off a government computer." He sent
another email later that same day, which was entitled
"[M.B.] and Judge K Relationship Rules effective
6-26-2017." Included in that email were a set of
"rules" that Judge Kachinsky was imposing for
specific categories of "activities." For example,
under the activity "In-chambers conversations," the
rule stated as followed: "To be work-related. However,
can briefly discuss outside activities (weekend and vacation
plans, etc.) when does not interfere with work activities.
[']Treats' to be brought in only on birthdays."
Under "Out of office and after hours activities,"
the rule stated, "Christmas only for exchange of gifts
etc. Initiation of any other activities by [M.B.] only (Judge
K Challenge Runs, wine at Holidays, etc.) ." The chart
also had rules for activities labeled "Professional
friendship" and "Personal friendship." For the
latter, the rule stated, "Yes but not 'besties'
and subject to limits above."
On June 26, 2017, Judge Kachinsky sent an email to Human
Resources Manager Malone, in which he claimed that the seven
incidents about which M.B. had complained were
"minor" and that her unwillingness to accept his
view of how their relationship should work would be
detrimental to the municipal court office. His email stated
that he preferred not to work with "such a person any
longer than possible." He suggested that Malone should
advise M.B. to "give a little bit on the work-only
thing." If M.B. did not do so, he stated that
"[t]he alternative for me is to exercise my authority
under Sec. 755.10(1) to terminate employment." The email
stated that Judge Kachinsky had communicated with other
individuals about the municipal court manager position,
discussed a possible termination date for M.B., and stated
that Judge Kachinsky had a plan for obtaining resumes and
quickly hiring a replacement manager. On June 29, 2017, Judge
Kachinsky sent another email to Malone stating that while he
had not made a final decision on whether to fire M.B., she
had until 5:00 p.m. that day to decide if she accepted his
list of "rules" ...