“A parent’s interest in the parent-child relationship and in the care, custody, and management of his or her child is recognized as a fundamental liberty interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.” – Appellate Court Judge Shelly Grogan
Kenosha judge Chad Kerkman is at it again—this time, in a Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) case called Kenosha County v. A.C.S., in which the Government was trying to take “Anna’s” children away from her. Many argue that the highest authority a judge has in Wisconsin is taking a child away from their parents. It is a process that must follow the letter of the law.
In this case, Kerkman set a hearing date to hear legal arguments for a motion brought by the Government. However, Anna’s lawyer, Atty. Brenda VanCuick, informed Kerkman the morning of that hearing that she was still tied up in a criminal trial in a different courtroom. She therefore could not attend the hearing, and needed an adjournment.
It is very common for attorneys to “double book,” as there are very few attorneys willing to take TPR cases. The court of appeals in this case even acknowledged that it is “common practice” to adjourn hearings when different courts schedule attorneys in more than one place at the same time.
So what happened after Atty. VanCuick told Judge Kerkman that she was unavailable for the motion hearing in Anna’s case? Information can travel quickly in the courthouse, and apparently Kerkman acted on it—in this case, illegally so. The Court of Appeals explains:
“Although Judge Kerkman apparently learned that Attorney VanCuick’s trial [in the other court] had resolved as of 9:15 . . . he did not learn that information from Attorney VanCuick. Rather, he learned it from an unidentified secondhand source and relied upon that secondhand information in determining of his own accord that Attorney VanCuick should [no longer] have a conflict with Anna’s motion hearing . . . In reaching this conclusion, Judge Kerkman seemingly assumed that Attorney VanCuick did not have any obligations related to her jury trial that required her attention, despite the trial having concluded earlier than anticipated, and he thereafter determined it was appropriate to proceed with the hearing . . .”
That’s right. Kerkman behaved like a judge in a third world country and held the hearing without Anna or Atty. VanCuick even being present in the courtroom. Not surprisingly, without Anna or her lawyer there to argue their case, Kerkman ruled for the Government. Neither Anna, nor her attorney were able to plead their case for keeping her children. Once again, the Court of Appeals explains Kerkman’s gross misdeeds:
“[B]y proceeding with the hearing in Attorney VanCuick’s (and Anna’s) absence under these circumstances, Judge Kerkman effectively barred Anna from challenging the [Government’s] evidence and presenting evidence and argument of her own . . . Accordingly, under these circumstances, the fairness and integrity of the judicial proceeding . . . has been placed in doubt, and the denial of the statutory right to counsel constitutes structural error.”
“Structural error” means the proceeding is so defective on its face that it can’t be tolerated—not even by the generally pro-government Court of Appeals. Consequently:
“This matter is therefore reversed and remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
Translation: Kerkman’s incompetence in basic legal principles has cost the taxpayers of this County and of the State a lot of money.
This isn’t the first time Kerkman’s incompetence as a judge has hit the taxpayers in the pocketbook. Remember the Jensen case that was tried earlier this year? On September 8, 2015, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which is one of the courts right below the United States Supreme Court, ordered Jensen’s new trial. But instead of doing that, Kerkman decided to reinstate Jensen’s conviction without a trial. With the bang of his gavel, he found Jensen guilty without hearing any evidence, violating Jensen’s fundamental constitutional rights. As the On Point blog explained it, “[Kerman] said, in essence, ‘you’re wrong, Seventh Circuit, there was no [constitutional] violation.’” I attended every day of Jensen’s trial – there was more than enough evidence to convict the man. There was no need to cheat, delay, and add expense to the taxpayers.
Once again, the state appellate court (and then the state supreme court) had to smack Kerkman around. The appellate court rebuked Kerkman, saying:
“In this appeal, Jensen argues that [Kerkman] [made an error] either by unconstitutionally directing a new judgment against him without a trial or plea, or because the circuit court reentered an old, constitutionally infirm conviction that was invalidated by a higher court. We need not delve into the murky waters of deciding between these two because whichever action [Kerkman] in fact took under the law was in error . . .”
That’s why it took almost eight years to get the case back in front of a judge for trial: costly and time-consuming appellate litigation, thanks to Kerkman’s inability to understand or refusal to follow the law.
Many Kenosha County attorneys have told KCE, anonymously, that Judge Kerkman is, in general, a hot-headed, short-tempered judge that either frequently ignores the law or doesn’t know the law. Either is equally alarming. Kerkman is proving them right. How much damage will Kerkman do, and how much money will he cost the county and state taxpayers, before he leaves the bench? Kerkman’s only contested election was his first in 2009. He has been elected twice since, with no opposition. He is next up for election in 2027. Don’t expect anyone to run against him though. In Kenosha County, there is an unwritten rule that lawyers should not run against a sitting judge. This rule should end, along with Kerkman’s reign.