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SCOW: Court commissioner shanks one far into the rough

Wisconsin Judicial Commission v. Kenneth W. Gorski, 2020 WI 5, imposing a public reprimand on a court commissioner; case activity

Gorski, a part-time court commissioner, earns a public reprimand for failing to recuse himself from a case being handled by a lawyer who is a close friend and for his treatment of the pro se litigant in that case.

Gorski was presiding in a small claims case between Meyer, who was representing himself, and a business entity represented by an attorney who was a good friend of Gorski’s. (¶6). How good a friend, you ask? “Between 2015 and 2018 [which includes the time period that Meyer’s case was being litigated], Commissioner Gorski and Attorney Gebert, along with other individuals, went on four overseas vacation trips together. They also have taken frequent overnight golfing trips together, both locally in northern Wisconsin and in other parts of the United States.” (¶5). One of those overseas trips was a week-long golfing trip to Ireland while Meyer’s case was pending. (¶7).

This didn’t happen only in the Meyer case. “Attorney Gebert had appeared before [Gorski] on six or seven occasions. Indeed, just prior to that meeting with the Judicial Commission and after having been notified that it was investigating his failure to recuse himself in a case in which Attorney Gebert had appeared before him, Commissioner Gorski had presided over a pretrial conference in another case in which Attorney Gebert represented one party and the other party was self-represented. While this other case was pending before Commissioner Gorski, he took a trip with Attorney Gebert and others to Vietnam.” (¶11). Gorski’s failure to disclose his close friendship with Gebert or to recuse himself violated SCR 60.04(4) because reasonable, well-informed persons would have reasonably questioned his ability to be
impartial. (¶12).

Gorski also made angry and sarcastic remarks to Meyer during the proceedings. (¶¶9-10). This violated SCR 60.04(1)(d) because Gorski failed to treat those with whom he dealt in performing his adjudicative duties with patience, dignity, and courtesy. (¶12). And the two things together—failing to recuse himself and failing to treat Meyer properly—violated SCR 60.03(1) (requiring judges to comply with the law and to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary) and SCR 60.02 (requiring judges to participate in establishing, maintaining, and enforcing high standards of conduct and to personally observe those standards in order preserve the integrity and independence of the judiciary). (¶12).

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