A Less Than Classy Exit For A Classy Guy
I don't know outgoing Waukesha County Circuit Judge Mark Gempeler that well.
He spent a brief time as an Assistant United States Attorney before I started with the office in 1982. He also worked as an Assistant District Attorney for Waukesha County and Waukesha County Corporation Counsel before being appointed to the Circuit Court bench by Tony Earl in 1983. He's been re-elected without opposition since 1984.
I don't really know anybody though who has too much bad to say about Mark. The general consensus is that he's been a really good judge over the years.
During his tenure on the bench, Gempeler has also had more than his share of health-related problems. In 1999, he took a 6 1/2 month paid medical leave because of heart-related issues. That medical condition had caused him to miss extensive time over the preceding five years.
In January of 2007, Judge Gempeler had a second major back surgery to try to correct an old sports injury. Shortly after the surgery, his wife was diagnosed with uterine cancer. In August of last year, Judge Gempeler took a paid leave of absence to serve as his wife's caregiver. Unfortunately, she passed away in August of 2008.
Despite not being on the bench since August of 2007, Judge Gempeler ran unopposed last Spring and was re-elected to another six year term.
The Journal Sentinel has reported that Judge Gempeler continued to be paid his full $125,992 salary since August of 2007. This is despite the fact that he burned through all his sick days a long time ago. The taxpayers have also been required to shell out almost $100,000 in order to hire reserve judges to pick up Judge Gempeler's caseload. Right or wrong, there's apparently nothing in the law that prevents a judge from continuing to get paid under circumstances like this.
In any event, Judge Gempeler has now decided that it's time for him to hang up his robes. To that end, he originally announced that he would be stepping down no later than November 30th. Fine, Hail and Farewell.
Judge Gempeler wasn't content to leave well enough alone however - and that's where I have an issue!
Despite the fact that he hasn't been on the bench for over a year, Gempeler has now decided to postpone his "retirement" until December 2nd. This date is important because had he retired before December 2nd, an election to select his successor would have had to have been held in April of 2009. By delaying his "retirement" until December 2nd, Governor Doyle not only gets the opportunity to appoint Gempeler's successor - but that person doesn't have to stand for election until April of 2010.
Accordingly, Gempeler ( a Democrat ) is playing politics in order to (1) assure that his successor is most likely a Democrat in heavily Republican Waukesha County (the chairman of the County Democratic Party has already announced an interest in the seat) and (2) give Jim Doyle's hand-picked appointee a one-year head start.
I understand that judges frequently time their retirements to in order to benefit their respective political parties. This is why several Federal judges across the country (including Judge Randa in Milwaukee and Judge Shabaz in Madison) announced that they would move to Senior Status conditioned on the fact that their replacements be confirmed prior to President Bush leaving office.
Despite collecting his full salary though, Judge Gempeler hasn't been at work for going on a year and a half. Under these circumstances, you would think that he wouldn't feel the need to try to further manipulate the process for political purposes.
All in all, it's simply not a classy exit for an otherwise classy guy!