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September 2019 Millar's JurisDiction - The Cat’s Meow

by Richard W. Millar, Jr.

In the Roaring Twenties, which contrary to popular opinion was before my time, one of the popular phrases was “the cat’s meow.” If you said that to someone today, they would probably look askance at you and suggest you have seen too many cat videos on YouTube. But, just like the bee’s knees, which when you think about it makes even less sense, it referred to something that was stylish or particularly impressive to the ladies.

Like many sayings, its shelf life has expired, and probably the only people that use it now are veterinarians.

It does, however, have new relevance today as a basis for suspension from the bench.

Yes, I know that seems like a non sequitur, but as you say when you proffer a particularly shaky piece of evidence: I promise (a synonym for “hope”) I will connect it.

That brings me, and you if you’re still reading, to one Len Kachinsky, who, until recently had been sitting as a reserve municipal judge, first for the town of Menasha and later for Fox Crossing, both of which are somewhere in Wisconsin.

Mr. Kachinsky was a former lawyer for Brendan Dassey, who was the subject of the Netflix documentary or docuseries Making a Murderer. That has nothing to do with this article other than to make it sound more important. It is his role as a judge that is relevant.

It seems that he had a “relationship,” a word today that has many ambiguous meanings, with a female court manager whom he had hired. They would talk sometimes about their personal lives and occasionally went running together. In later proceedings, she is referred to only as “M.B.”

Fox Crossing Municipal Court is not the busiest court in the country. It is in session three times a month and then only for about two hours.

At some point the “bloom was off the rose,” at least from M.B.’s perspective. She accused him of harassment and he was arrested on felony stalking charges. He was acquitted, and his then attorney attributed the charges to Mr. Kachinsky’s “quirky” personality, which included meowing randomly.

Even though Judge Kachinsky’s term had expired and he had not sought re-election, the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, worried apparently that he and his “cat noises” might sometime try to get back on the bench, brought disciplinary charges which were eventually decided by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

In one instance, when M.B. walked by, he popped up from under a counter where he had been hiding and shouted, “Roar!”

They shared a small office. On three occasions in one week while they were both in the office, he sat close to her desk facing her and did nothing but tap on his pen and meow. To quote the supreme court, “on one visit, Judge Kachinsky continued this extremely odd behavior for forty-five minutes.”

I’m guessing that forty-five minutes was the deal breaker: “We fail to see how staring at an employee for forty-five minutes while tapping a pencil and making cat noises constitutes the maintenance of high standards of personal conduct or promotes the integrity of the judiciary.”

Hard to argue with that. No one wants to hear a judge meow for more than five minutes, much less forty-five.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court suspended him for three years and required him to first file a fitness petition should he ever seek to return to the bench.

To use another cat idiom, Judge Kachinsky would have been better off if the cat got his tongue.

Richard W. Millar, Jr. is Of Counsel with the firm of Friedman Stroffe & Gerard in Irvine. He can be reached at rmillar@fsglawyers.com.