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Kenosha Judge Rebuked by the Court of Appeals—Again

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Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Chad Kerkman
(File Photo by Kevin Mathewson, Kenosha County Eye)

“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

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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.

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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:

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“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:

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“[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:

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“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. 

Opinion

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.

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35 Responses

  1. Wow! You don’t need to be a lawyer to know what Kirkman did was wrong. He had to know. If he didn’t know, he is both incredibly stupid and incompetent. There are other cases that he messed up that are in the appellant pipeline. As Kevin pointed out in his opinion, the citizens of Kenosha deserve some of the blame. They continue to elect these corrupt buffoons.

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  2. Didn’t this buffoon grow up in Twin Lakes? His mummy was a lawyer ( In a Judge Judy voice) I’m a lawyer! So….. Yeah… Twin Lakes Ha! His kids must be real proud of their daddy as he tramples on the rights of mothers and children. Way to do Chad!

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  3. This is a classic example of two wrongs not making a right. The judge’s temper and the lawyer’s history of missing court appearances (not the first time).

    The judge, aided by his then-wife, ran a smear campaign when he was first elected. There are many lawyers who haven’t forgotten that.

    1. That lawyer is in demand because she knows the law better than all the judges in Kenosha and Racine.

      Focus on the judge – that’s the problem.

  4. I can only assume that anyone having a hearing for losing custody of their kids has a taxpayer funded attorney, and are likely a horrible parent (assume). When our tax dollars are being billed against to make dozens of appointments something has to expedite the process. There should be a log of some sort preventing double booking (and double charging) by attorneys; to suit the interests of the taxpayers. This mother is likely not a martyr, we’ve all seen the articles on the horrific living conditions that kids were allowed to stay in; so what was this mother doing to her kids?

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    1. all citizens have the assumption of innocence before being judged in a court of law. I would imagine you would appreciate that if you were accused of something

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    2. This was a terrible mother who deserved to have her kids taken away from her. That being said, it is not relevant to the fact that the judge took away her constitutional rights.

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      1. Kevin PLEASE look into the Village of pleasant prairie land development that hit todays knews. Steinbrink owns the land and is quietly trying to jam down residents throats the 700+ lots to a developer. Historically the village would never allow a multi year 700+ development with such small lots- seems Sr wants to get this done quietly. This is also the land that he bought while president, after he had them rezone it for his benefit. He’s recused himself but we all know he has Pollocoff by the balls too….

        1. I’m not sure Steinbrink owns that land. Isn’t his off of H? But if he recuses himself that could be good news because the that would leave four board members, two of whom are new.

      2. You may not think so…..but I do as do a lot of others.

        Wondering what you would be saying if he let the kids go back with his mother and then one of them died in the interim.

        Sounds like VanCuick needs to schedule a little better.

    3. Yes, I agree with all these things.

      However constitutional rights are not privileges: they are a restraint in government power. An infringement on one crack-snorting gang banger’s rights is an infringement on mine and yours. This is what most folks don’t really understand.

  5. he needs to be disbarred and removed from the bench before he does more harm to our county! We can’t afford to have such an incompetent judge in Kenosha County

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    1. Chad kerkman was involved in a case from somers. He was given a 68 page letter as to the events that led up to letting somers do what they did. Bottom line kerkman is a rotten judge and needs to be disbarred. Makes me wonder if him and somers’ attorney jacobsen work hand in hand.

  6. He took my friends (a man who has full custody) kids because the mother has been arrested for stalking him at his job and home. He could not drop off the kids because of the no contact and the police told him not to. Well went to this dummies court and he said he was going to put him in jail and remanded the kids over to the mother till next court date in July. Even the kids hate the mom and she has been accused of abusing them. I have seen the court he is a real bad hot head if you go over on time for the next case. Yells at people in the court and reprimands them for anything.

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    1. It sounds exactly like my story.im living proof.i don’t sleep nor eat since he removed my children.all I do is cry.i been a single dad since my children where born.they been living with me their whole life.judge Kerkman destroyed my children life along with mines.

    2. eat a cucumber! you ? right. judge’s with that type of behavior. should never be allowed to work in the legal system. many judges don’t give a “f” about anyone’s children.repeatedly would put families. specially the children in danger. more so often if the children are biracial or black.

  7. Double booking by an attorney actually is a big deal. Termination of parental rights cases by law usually take precedence because they have very strict time limits. The problem here is how poorly the judge handled it.

  8. This judge took a child and forced hi to live with his father. Ignored the laws. Ignored the child’s wishes. Ignored the fact the man was never around the child. Ignored the man’s lifestyle. Decided he was “stable” in home life and he quickly married one of his many women. That made him “stable”. He divorced, grabbed another woman, and another moved, moved the child from every family member he knew. Dumped him with the woman while he left and was with other women. Continued this until the chikd turned 14 asked for a lawyer and won in court to go livewith his grandmother. The judge reamed this man for his lifestyle and non parenting and gave accolades to the young man. Kerkman should have been tossed as a judge LONG AGO. But this Kenosha Co. Good one boys club is corrupt as hell. The young man knows this judge is garbage. He should NEVERbe involved with kids. I pity his.

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  9. I read the decision online and apparently Judge Kerkman was hearing the case for another judge.

    TPR (termination of parental rights) cases are a very big deal with very strict time deadlines and proof requirements. They are often more complicated than many criminal jury trials. The failure to honor the right to counsel, especially when the attorney was in contact with the court, is also a very big deal.

    The public has a very strong interest in a properly held TPR proceeding not just because of the rights of the parents but also the public and others who have an interest in the case. One time parental rights were terminated but the judge messed up and the case was reversed on appeal. The new judge also goofed and was appealed AFTER the child had been adopted by another family. The second judge was also reversed and the mess wound up on the doorstep of the United States Supreme Court.

    That said, attorneys are expected to have access to their calendars when cases are scheduled with the eye toward avoiding conflicts which, despite best efforts, can still occur. Because of the extreme seriousness and strict time limits in TPR cases they are high priorities and attorneys should avoid double booking and try to resolve any conflicts.

  10. I read a lot about Blues, Freemasons and Jews. There should be only one way to label them: Integrity (I) or lack of it (NI).
    A year ago, we were supporting Sam K., now it seems she is being demonized.
    A few months ago, we were supporting Zoerner. Actually I have no doubt he made it in big part thanks to the KCE and readers, seeking for a change.
    We can’t get offended because they don’t please us the way we want. Otherwise the message we are giving is that we should’ve vote DARE Rowley.
    Regarding Kirkmam, he is not the only one with temper tantrums.
    I guess you are right KM, when that’s the case, they should be challenged.

  11. This doesn’t surprise me AT ALL. Family court commissioners and judges DO NOT do what’s in the best interest of children or families. It’s all about what lawyer can filibuster lies the best. You can be a fit parent that works and is trying to co parent and they will still do whatever they want in the interest of the parent with the biggest lies. Then make you pay the highest amount they can. Racine County is big on this type of behavior also. Nobody that presides in/over family court cares about the truth, and don’t get me started on or family court social workers or lawyers. These people work together to take children from perfectly fit parents, with little to no proof. It truly is a joke of a system and is extremely BROKEN!!

    1. It’s a common perception is that the loudest lawyer is the most successful. More often, though, it’s the lawyer that comes to court prepared, knows the law and the facts of the case and argues succinctly, respectfully and fairly. The attorney who blows smoke and steam may make the client think that he or she is fighting for them but it usually exactly the opposite. judges and lawyers know this.

  12. On the flip side, the shitty parents who have already been dealing with CPS for years and have actually had their kids put into foster care for 6 months keep getting high and drunk. They should not have kids. Drugs and alcohol are the top priority over diapers, wipes, food etc. They have actually been in the cycle so long they have “favorite” case workers!! They live in Twin Lakes so enough said….

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