Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Jason Rossell, who is also the second district’s chief judge, has said he will seek an opinion from the Wisconsin Attorney General and even take Kenosha County to court, to prevent Kenosha County Eye from obtaining the Kenosha County Judges’ keycard data that includes data suggesting how many hours they work. KCE has obtained such data numerous times in the past from Kenosha County, but never from the judges.
There has been a push for a ninth Circuit Court Branch in Kenosha County. There are currently eight judges that take criminal, civil, family and other cases every day. Some politicians want the ninth Circuit Court to alleviate what they call an overworked judiciary in this corner of the state. If a ninth branch is added, taxpayer funds from the state will pay for the new judges, however, taxpayers from the County will have to pay for support staff, technology, remodeling of a courtroom, and perhaps more costs.
Kenosha County Eye was made aware of these plans and wanted to collect information to see if the new judge was truly needed, or if it was an unnecessary wish-list item. Of course, it is possible that Kenosha County needs another judge, but many people believe it should be investigated and analyzed.
One way that KCE can make an educated estimate is by requesting the keycard data for the judges. Judges need to swipe to enter the courthouse and swipe to leave the courthouse. Some judges, if they leave at the same time, might “piggyback” off of one another’s swipe to leave. There is no way to determine with 100% certainty how many hours any of the seven judges truly work per day or week. We can, however, see trends, highs/lows, and even get close guesses of total hours. As Chief Judge, Jason Rossell pointed out to KCE, not all hours would be logged in the keycard system. He says judges sometimes work from home, get woken up for search warrants for serious incidents at 2:00 am, or attend continuing education away from the courthouse.
Although we know we cannot get 100% accurate information, we can still get good information. On November 11, 2023, we made a public records request for the keycard data of all eight Judges. We also asked for the keycard data of the County Executive and a member of her staff – KCE is told both work many hours at the building across the street from the court house.
Although we made the public records request to the facilities department of the County government, the request made its way to the County’s lawyer, Joey Cardamone. Cardamone immediately notified the judges that KCE made the request, and he asked for legal advice and guidance from the judges. This is something that is unprecedented and improper. In the County government, there is a separation of powers. There is an executive branch, headed by County Executive Samantha Kerkman and her department heads, a legislative branch made up by the elected board members, and a judicial branch, made up of the circuit court judges. These three branches have separate powers for checks and balances. Cardamone crossed over from the executive branch to the judicial branch of government, apparently to give the judges deference.
When Judge Rossell was made aware of our request, he asked the county to withhold the records. Neither Judge Rossell, nor the other judges work for the County. They work for the state. Rossell has no standing to oppose the County’s decision, unless of course, he wants to file a court action, which is what he says he intends to do. It is unclear which court, state, or federal would have jurisdiction over this matter, but what is known for sure, is it will be expensive. Rossell brought up as a possible reason not to disclose the information, a former judge in Wisconsin who was killed by a madman, named Douglas Uhde. Uhde also planned to kill Mitch McConnell and Michigan Governor Whitmer per NBC News. This judge, however, was retired and was killed at home, not near the courthouse.
KCE is told that Judges Kerkman and Meier among others have indicated no opposition to have their info released. There are perhaps others that feel the same, but they are unknown to KCE.
KCE made contact with Rossell Tuesday evening and we are thankful he responded and answered some questions.
“In terms of the time swipe data from the key cards, it establishes the pattern of behavior of judges. On multiple occasions the US Marshall service and the security trainings given to judges has taught us to vary our routines. The time data of the swipes provides data on my routines and habits,” said Rossell. “The problem with using badge swipes as the marker of when I’m in the building is like you published on Friday a judge who gives up their spot to their staff may enter the front door and never swipe.”
Rossell seemed to make an argument for why the data can’t be 100% reliable, but not a serious argument for keeping the data hidden. “In terms of the hours I work, [it’s] well in excess of 40 per week. They may not be in chambers on the bench,” said Rossell. KCE isn’t in a position to dispute Rossell’s assertion that he works more than 40 hours a week. He is in the criminal rotation and has been trying jury trials and running the district administrative duties which includes Walworth, Kenosha and Racine counties.
Indeed, not all hours are worked at work, like teachers, business owners, journalists, and many other professions. But let the media take a peak before big checks are written. KCE will not be posting the raw data, but only some averages and trends. Most judges work about the same hours every day, and that is probably true throughout the United States. Releasing this data won’t affect their safety, nor is it KCE’s intention to do so. Judges do have extra laws on their sides for safety, too. Kenosha Judges can carry firearms in the courthouse if licensed. If I do, it’s a felony.
So now, we wait. Will the County turn over the records? Will the judges sue? We’ll let you know.