MADISON — A Racine County judge will be suspended for five days without pay, after the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that his behavior in two 2014 court cases was “concerning” and “obviously unethical.”
The ruling comes after a panel of three Wisconsin Court of Appeals judges in January recommended that Racine County Circuit Court Judge Michael Piontek be suspended for between 5 and 15 days without pay. Piontek had urged the panel to recommend “a public reprimand only,” the ruling document states.
“A reprimand, public or private, can be perceived as nothing more than a slap on the wrist for what is serious misconduct,” the judicial conduct panel recommendation stated. “A suspension for not less than five days and not more than 15 days is appropriate discipline to foster public confidence in the integrity of the judicial system.”
Over his 45-year legal career, this is the first time Piontek has been the subject of a complaint or grievance.
“I am profoundly sorry for the mistakes I made and deeply regret the negative impact they have had on the judicial, legal and public communities,” Piontek stated in a Jan. 2 letter regarding the commission case. “I deserve the public humiliation of me and my career resulting from front-page newspaper articles in my community.”
Piontek graduated from law school in 1974. He served as Racine County assistant corporation counsel from 1974 to 1975, as a Racine County assistant district attorney from 1975 to 1977, and practiced privately from 1977 to 2012.
The first case involved a man charged in 2014 with theft of more than $10,000, making fraudulent claims and obstructing an officer. Piontek, who presided over the case, called the prosecutor from his chambers about the case without notifying or including the defendant’s attorney.
In the phone call, Piontek said that any plea negotiation should involve the defendant being convicted of a felony and those involved in “scams like this” need to be stopped.
The Supreme Court says Piontek appeared to only admit his “obviously unethical” wrongdoing after he was caught.
In the second case, Piontek presided over the sentencing of a former nurse, who had pleaded guilty to several criminal charges. Piontek initiated an independent online investigation about the defendant without telling the parties in the case until after they made their arguments and statements at the sentencing hearing.
The Supreme Court calls it “clearly improper” to conduct the research and not give the defendant’s attorney a chance to respond.
Today's mugshots: May 20
These are images of people charged with a crime in Racine County. Booking photos are provided by Racine County law enforcement officials. A defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty and convicted.
Michelle M. Bennett-King
Michelle M. Bennett-King, 1600 block of West Street, Racine, child abandonment, neglecting a child.
Shirley V. Blackwell
Shirley V. Blackwell, 800 block of Sandra Court, Racine, felony bail jumping.
Anthony I. Chambliss
Anthony I. Chambliss, 2400 block of Taylor Avenue, Racine, attempting to flee or elude an officer, second degree recklessly endangering safety, possession of THC, operating a motor vehicle, resisting an officer, possession of drug paraphernalia, disorderly conduct.
Devontia M. Cruse
Devontia M. Cruse, 3300 block of 9th Avenue, felony bail jumping, possession of cocaine, possession of THC, possession of a controlled substance, hit and run, obstructing an officer.
Cortez A. Hudson
Cortez A. Hudson, 200 block of Jones Street, Racine, possession of a controlled substance.
Jeremy C. Koker
Jeremy C. Koker, 2000 block of Franklin Street, Racine, first degree recklessly endangering safety, discharge firearm from vehicle.
Tarvis J. Koker
NO PHOTO AVAILABLE
Tarvis J. Koker, 2000 block of Franklin Street, Racine, first degree recklessly endangering safety, discharge firearm from vehicle.
Armand C. McCurty
Armand C. McCurty, 2000 block of W. High Street, Racine, possession of THC, neglecting a child.
Shaina M. Plump
Shaina M. Plump, 2000 block of W. High Street, Racine, possession of THC, neglecting a child.
Reginald G. Turner
Reginald G. Turner, 1800 block of Saint Clair Street, Racine, criminal trespass, misdemeanor battery, robbery with use of force, operating a motor vehicle without owner's consent, second degree recklessly endangering safety, criminal damage to property, obstructing an officer.
Darian J. Larsen
Darian J. Larsen, 3700 block of Northwestern Avenue, racine, possession of a controlled substance.
Alicia M. Malone
Alicia M. Malone, 1000 block of West Lawn Avenue, Racine, misdemeanor theft.
Brittany Lee Martin
Brittany Lee Martin, 1000 block of Wilson Street, Racine, obstructing an officer.
Robert M. McClain
Robert M. McClain, Racine, possession of drug paraphernalia, misdemeanor bail jumping, criminal trespass.
Jessica N. Ott
Jessica N. Ott, 1000 block of S. Memorial Drive, Racine, possession of drug paraphernalia, criminal trespass.
John S. Planka
John S. Planka, Burlington, misdemeanor bail jumping.
Carl F. Rickert Jr.
Carl F. Rickert Jr., 200 block of Frank Avenue, Racine, disorderly conduct, misdemeanor bail jumping.
Willie Wayne Sykes
Willie Wayne Sykes, Milwaukee, misdemeanor bail jumping, possess/illegally obtained prescription.