(OnFocus) A part-time circuit court commissioner for Wood County was reprimanded by the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday.
Based on a complaint filed by the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, Kenneth W. Gorski was reprimanded for violating the Code of Judicial Conduct by not recusing himself from a small claims case involving a close friend who is an attorney. Gorski admitted to the allegations.
Gorski has held his position since 2014 and works two afternoons a month.
The complaint stated that due to personal bias Gorski should have recused himself from the small claims case where the plaintiff was represented by his friend, and that he had also made inappropriate comments to the defendant who was self-represented in the trial.
Gorski has known the attorney for 20 years and they socialize monthly, have gone on four overseas vacations together in the last few years, and take frequent overnight golfing trips.
While presiding over a pretrial conference in the small claims case in 2015, Gorski did not disclose to the defendant his friendship with the attorney. During the trial on Nov. 18, 2015, Gorski lost his temper with the defendant twice, according to the filed document.
On the first occasion, Gorski said, “Stop, now, just stop with that! Jesus . . . Come on. That’s getting old, that’s getting really old.” He later groaned in response to the what the defendant had said, saying, “Why can’t you just be quiet when other people are talking?”
The defendant was ordered to pay $1,814.50, according to court records.
After the defendant stated the verdict was an example of corruption, Gorski groaned again and said, “That’s my middle name…corruption.” Gorski said his comments had been said in anger in with sarcasm, the court document said.
The defendant later filed an appeal in March 2017 but decided against it the next day.
In October 2018, Gorski stated to the Judicial Commission that his friend, the attorney, had appeared before him on six or seven occasions. Just before that commission meeting, Gorski had presided over another pretrial conference where the attorney represented one party while the other was self-represented, and this was after Gorski had been notified of the investigation into his failure to recuse himself.
However, the Judicial Conduct Panel didn’t believe there was any indication that this had affected the outcome of that case or that it advanced Gorski’s personal desires.
The panel stated Gorski’s behavior had a negative impact on the integrity of the judiciary and public perception of judiciary independence. It determined a public reprimand would be sufficient.