After a 2021 suspension and reelection in April, Winnebago County Circuit Court Judge Scott Woldt faces new allegations that he threatened to retaliate against an attorney who supported his opponent in the recent election.
Woldt allegedly confronted attorney Matthew Goldin during a lawyer get-together at an Oshkosh taproom on April 25. The Winnebago County judge told Goldin he would face "consequences" for supporting Woldt’s opponent, according to a complaint Goldin filed with the Wisconsin Judicial Commission.
"Woldt appeared (to be) threatening that he would utilize his judicial power to punish me, my clients and my practice for some sort of perceived entitlement to loyalty," Goldin wrote.
The complaint was made public as part of a judicial substitution request by Goldin in a case Woldt was presiding over. It comes after Woldt received a one-week suspension for judicial misconduct from the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2021, and after he defeated attorney LeKeisha Haase in the spring election.
Goldin did not respond to Wisconsin Public Radio’s requests for comment. A judicial associate in Woldt’s circuit court branch said he was out of the office this week. WPR sent another request through Woldt’s campaign website, but did not receive a response.
During the April 25 interaction, Goldin wrote that Woldt told him he was "dead to him" for allowing Haase to put a campaign sign on Goldin’s Omro property. The judge indicated he would "take out his anger and fury" on Goldin and his clients, according to the complaint.
"Then he said I could write him a check for $28,000 to pay for the contested judicial campaign, and then we'd be square," Goldin wrote. "I told him that would be unethical."
Goldin allegedly told the judge that his support for Haase wasn’t personal, and that he thought diversity is important because there are too few Black judges.
The attorney told Woldt he didn’t publicly endorse Haase and only displayed a sign on the Omro property — not at his home or office, the complaint said. Woldt allegedly responded by saying Goldin’s support of Haase meant he was responsible for her campaign strategy and the "dirty laundry" that arose during the campaign.
"(Woldt) said I'm 61 years old, what am I suppose(d) to do if I lost an election?" Goldin wrote.
Attorney Nicole Morley, who was listed as a witness in the complaint, said she didn’t hear the entire conversation between Goldin and Woldt because she was taking notes after Woldt "verbally accosted" her prior to the confrontation with Goldin. But she said she witnessed most of Goldin’s interaction with the judge.
"To ensure the integrity within the judicial system as a whole, I'm going to reserve any specific comments for the Judicial Commission pending their investigation," Morley said. "What I can confirm for you is that I am a witness to the conduct and I do have ethical concerns that are accurately reflected within the complaint."
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Attorney Ty Gasparek was also listed as a witness in the complaint. Gasparek said he’s not aware of any inaccuracies in the complaint, but declined to comment further.
Wisconsin’s Code of Judicial Conduct requires that judges "uphold the integrity" of the judiciary, perform official duties impartially and "avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety."
"If these allegations are true, the public's confidence in the integrity of the judicial system may be compromised," said Margo Kirchner, executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
Woldt was appointed to the bench in 2004, and has won four elections. In 2021, Woldt was suspended for one week without pay for judicial misconduct that involved making "crude, sarcastic and undignified" comments during hearings and using a gun as a "prop" in the courtroom twice, according to the Wisconsin Judicial Commission’s 2022 annual report.
One incident of misconduct involved Woldt referring to a 13-year-old girl who had been sexually assaulted by an 18-year-old as a "so-called victim" during a 2014 sentencing hearing for her abuser, according to the state Supreme Court's disciplinary finding against him.
From 1978 to 2022, public disciplinary cases by the Wisconsin Judicial Commission have resulted in three judges being removed from office, 15 suspensions, 12 reprimands and one complaint being dismissed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, according to the commission’s 2022 report.
The last case that resulted in a judge being removed from office was in 1985, and Woldt is the most recent judge to receive disciplinary action.
During the 2023 campaign, Haase told WPR that she asked local attorneys why they weren’t considering running against Woldt. She said the attorneys she spoke with told her they feared Woldt would "ruin my firm, ruin my livelihood" and impact their clients appearing in front of him.
"That has been everyone’s concern," Haase said. "That’s people’s concern with public endorsements even."
Haase said she felt comfortable running because her firm isn’t in circuit court very often, and primarily works on cases in federal courts.
"It is known that he really does hold a grudge, and he will punish you," she said of Woldt during the campaign.
Editor’s note: Rob Mentzer contributed to this story.