Walworth County’s Arrogance of a Few

Walworth County is a small rural county in southeast Wisconsin. There are diverse delights in the county, from the many capable, caring, common people who live here, and from the natural beauty visible from at every vantage.

Sadly, many of our politicians, bureaucrats, and judges are not among those delights. Even the simplest understanding seems to escape them.

One wonders: are you ignorant or arrogant enough to believe what you say, or do you think that others are ignorant or foolish enough to believe it?

There’s an example of the all that’s rotten about the administration of justice in Walworth County, in the Walworth County judges’ appointment of a court commissioner without notice to other, possible applicants. See, Attorneys question judicial appointment.

Following the election of a county court commission to the circuit court, the sitting judges of Walworth County exercised their authority to appoint someone to that position. They misused that authority — misused it in an way that would be apparent to even an average student — by failing to provide notice to any interested applicants:

ELKHORN – The day after David Reddy was elected Walworth County’s next judge, the remaining judges appointed someone to replace Reddy as family court commissioner.

Now, a group of attorneys is questioning whether the process should have been more open, giving other candidates a chance to apply for the job.

“Dave Reddy’s seat wasn’t even cold yet,” said Jeff Krebs, managing attorney of the Walworth County Public Defender’s Office.

Krebs brought up the issue at the most recent meeting of the Walworth County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, a group that brings together judges, prosecutors, cops and other county officials who deal with law enforcement issues.

“Members of the private bar had approached me because some of them, I think, were curious or perhaps interested in filling that position,” Krebs said.

The problem, Krebs said, is not the person the judges appointed, Kristine Drettwan, a part-time court commissioner and judicial assistant to the county’s four circuit court judges.

“Apparently, there are no guidelines to fill those positions,” Krebs said. “The judges made their selection and that was it. Apparently, that is the Walworth County way of how things are done. If they’re done that way, there is no openness to it.”

Other counties’ judges know that, to use the power they have wisely and well, they should make sure that the selection process is open to any candidate through advertisement of the opportunity.

That’s not what happened in Walworth County. Predictably, Walworth County’s presiding judge declined to comment on the action. It’s predictable because they process for selection was an obvious example of a bad, closed practice, impossible to defend as an expression of good, open, transparent government. If a man wishes to serve as presiding judge, then he should speak to his actions, including this one.

I’ll consider the published remarks of another Walworth County judge, Robert Kennedy, who spoke while Gibbs stayed silent. Kennedy observed that

Kennedy said the four judges in Walworth County knew Drettwan was the best candidate for the job. They all agreed she should be Reddy’s replacement and offered her the position, he said.

“It’s our job to have the best, and we have the best,” Kennedy said.

No, and no again: It is not enough to have the best, if the practice of selection is a poor one. Kennedy is not sworn to achieving any result, but only one that is right both substantively and procedurally. It is not a principle of American law that one should have only the best, through whatever means one thinks fit. It never has been, and it never will be, as long as American is a free society. Achieving a result, a consequence, is no justification in this matter

(It was the Romans, in their brutal and violent republic, who would in times of emergency appoint a dictator for a limited period, to achieve a specific result in time of war or national emergency. They were a people interested in results. They had the practice of a temporary dictator in their republic, until one many sought that title permanently, thereafter destroying that republic itself. We are not, and never will be, so foolish as to believe that mere consequence, mere expediency, is the measure of justice or good policy.)

Funny, too, that thousand of students across America learn each year that the distinction between substance and procedure blurs and evaporates when good procedure is ignored. One would have thought that a sitting judge would not expect others to accept nonsense to the contrary so readily.

Odd, too, that Judge Kennedy is so sure that he has the best, the judges of Walworth County not having bothered to commit — as other places in Wisconsin do — to a genuine search process. Imagine these men, huddled together, so sure, and certain, so convinced of their omniscience, that they simply know.

If that should be true, can they not use those power of insight to some greater national purpose? Perhaps that deep insight might yet produce an understanding of the natural world — humanity has yet to see a compelling, Unified Field Theory. How about, instead, some insight into the design of a commercial fusion reactor? Well, if that’s a bit too hard, how about the likely winner of the next World Series, based on current trends and conditions?

Any of those achievements would mean far more to American the world than the shabby effort to justify bad local policy.

Are the judges of Walworth Countyignorant or arrogant enough to believe what one of them says, or do they think that others are ignorant or foolish enough to believe it?

I don’t know.

I do know that I cannot, and never will, believe that a flimsy excuse of expediency is anything more a disgrace and embarrassment for Walworth County.