September 10, 2009

Follow up on judges story

Last week we ran a story looking at why incumbent Circuit Court judges are rarely challenged for their seats, despite being elected officials. Here's a list of when Racine County Circuit Court judges are up for re-election:

2010 - Stephan Simanek (retiring) and John Jude
2011 - Dennis Barry and Emily Mueller
2012 - Richard Kreul
2013 - Gerald Ptacek
2014 - Charles Constantine
2015 - Faye Flancher, Wayne Marik and Allan Torhorst

(We're still trying to track down when each of Racine County judges were elected or appointed to the bench. If you know, please post in the comments.)


During the story, lawyers suggested we look at Appellate Court rulings as a way to evaluate judges. The Appellate Court posts its decisions online, so we reviewed the past three months. Here are the local cases that were overturned on appeals:

Judge Stephan Simanek was reversed on a case involving the former James Cape and Sons Company. The case dated back to 2004 when Cape, a road construction company, learned an employee was conspiring with other construction companies to rig bids. Simanek had ruled an insurance company was obligated to represent two companies, but had failed to do so. He had awarded the companies a combined $1.15 million because Zurich Insurance Company failed to defend them. The Appellate Court disagreed and cleared Zurich from having to pay the settlement.

Simanek was also partially overturned on a second case involving Cape and Sons. In this case, Cape argued the companies that conspired to fix bids - Streu Construction and Vinton Construction - were responsible for it filing bankruptcy and going out of business. The companies, which worked with a former Cape employee to rig the bids, argued Cape itself was at fault for the scheme because its own employee was in on the conspiracy. Simanek agreed with the companies, but the Appellate Court disagreed and sent the case back Circuit Court for trial. The Appellate Court used an 1866 law to justify its ruling. Here's the explanation:
We are bound by Zulkee. Moreover, its commonsense logic makes as much sense today as it did in 1866. Holding otherwise would mean that employees could disregard their employer’s business model in favor of a model wholly to the employees’ own liking. What a world it would be if employees were allowed, without recourse, to decide for themselves the means and methods an employer uses to earn the revenue projected in its plans. It is for the employer to decide the question of how it is going to make money to survive and grow. An employee cannot take unilateral ownership of that question. Allowing anarchy to control employer-employee relationships is not a policy the courts have endorsed. And we do not do so now.
Judge Richark Kreul was reversed in July on a criminal case involving a Racine man who refused to testify. In 1998, Derrick Howard was charged with first-degree homicide along with Lorenzo Johnson. Howard refused to testify against Johnson and was charged with contempt of court. Before that charge went to trial, Howard was moved to a prison in Oklahoma and returned to a Wisconsin prison in 2002. He went to trial on the contempt charge after he brought the case to the attention of the District Attorney's office in 2007. Howard was found guilty of the charge, but the Appellate Court ruled nine years was too long to wait for trial. They threw out the conviction, concluding Howard's right to a "speedy" trial was violated.

Judge Allan Torhorst was reversed in July on the case involving a Caledonia man who illegally kept the head of a deer that wasn't properly tagged. John Longo, of Caledonia, mounted the head of a deer that was hit by a car. The DNR found out about it and fined him for not having a permit. The case went to trial and Torhorst ruled Longo had to pay a $1 fine and turn over the head at the DNR's request. The DNR appealed the ruling because it disagreed with the time frame Torhorst put on its request to seize the deer head. Longo didn't respond, so the Appellate Court overruled Torhorst and told him to order Longo to turnover the deer head immediately.


  1. Mark Nielsen9/11/2009 11:49 AM

    Branch 1 Then District Attorney Gerry Ptacek was appointed by Governor Thompson to a vacancy created by the retirement of John Ahlgrimm and was elected over opposition in 1989. He has run unopposed since.
    Branch 2- Then private attorney Stephan Simanek was elected to an open judgeship in 1979, running unopposed then and every time since.
    Branch 3 - Then private attorney Emily Mueller was appointed to the vacancy created by the retirement of Jon Skow and has been reelected without opposition since.
    Branch 4 - Then private attorney Jack Jude was elected in a contested race with another court commissioner to the open seat created by the retirement of Emmanuel Vuvunas.
    Branch 5 - Then District Attorney Dennis Barry was appointed to the vacant judgeship created by the mandatory retirement of Judge Harvey. He has been reelected without opposition since.
    Branch 6 - Court Commissioner Wayne Marik was elected in contested election in 1982 and has been reelected without opposition since.
    Branch 7 - Then Private Attorney Charles Constantine announced against Judge Wheeler, who decided to retire. He was then elected in a contested election over an assistant District Attorney, and has run without opposition in each election since.
    Branch 8 - Then Assistant Family Court Commissioner Faye Flancher was appointed to replace Judge Dennis Flynn upon his retirement. She has run without opposition in every election since.
    Branch 9 - Then Burlington City Attorney Alan Torhorst was elected in a contested election against a private attorney to the newly created judgeship in 1991, and has been reelected without opposition since.
    Branch 10 - Then private attorney Richard Kreul was elected to a newly created judgeship without opposition in 1992. He has run without opposition since.

    Mark Nielsen
    Racine Municipal Judge

  2. Barry is full of himself. I would love to see him off the bench.