Concerns Raised Over Truancy Court Judge’s Behavior

By Jerry Bader and Sam Morateck

A member of the Appleton School board has raised concerns about a truancy court held on school grounds, suggesting that students may be “humiliated, bullied and talked down to” by the judge who presides over the court. Board member Alvin Dupree told Media Trackers in an interview that he is also concerned by the lack of transparency into the proceedings:

“We’re the only school district, to my knowledge, who are doing it on the school grounds essentially out of the view of the public. Not a lot of community members are aware of the fact that we are actually holding truancy court on school grounds. Just from a transparency perspective (it’s a concern) knowing our school district had recently been sued to make the national news for a transparency issue.”

Dupree says he informed school officials about concerns over how Outagamie Co. Circuit Court Judge Mark McGinnis interacts with students about a year ago, when he obtained appeals court decisions overturning McGinnis’ actions in three cases. But he says someone else raised concerns about the truancy court two years ago. Dupree says that he has shared the appeals court decisions, which go back five years or more, with the school board. He says the rulings show that a court of appeals found on various occasions that due process procedures were in question and that McGinnis “overstepped his boundaries.”

One appeals case, a young lady, 17 years old, gets 30 days in the detention center… Yes, we want these kids to get to school. But to have a child locked up for thirty days…for just one day is a problem to me…We’re putting them in shelter care where there are major offenders in there who happen to be juveniles. We have these truants cases because these kids are just no going to school, for whatever reason…you’re  creating a bigger problem…and this is well known.

DuPree said he hopes that after reviewing the older cases the board will request transcripts for every case from 2015 to present to:

do our due diligence to make sure there’s no current violations in there and we as a board I think it’s important to look at the transcripts. Because one of the major concerns is that they(the students) are humiliated and bullied and talked down to in that court room. These are kids. These aren’t adults. We are also aware of the fact, and I shared it with the board that research shows that judge Mark McGinnis is the number one requested for a different judge by every defendant that goes before him, for concern of potential bias. This is the exact same judge we’re putting our kids in front of, behind the scenes, on school grounds.”

This should go back to the courts; it should be done in the public view and it should not be done any differently than the rest of the school districts are doing it.

Dupree says he recently presented appeals decisions overturning McGinnis in truancy cases at a Programs and Services meeting. Dupree says he is frustrated that school administrative leadership hasn’t acted so far.  In one of the cases a judge hearing an appeal of a contempt order by McGinnis stated:

We conclude a reasonable person would interpret the court’s actions and statements to mean the court had already decided that (the student) violated its order before the contempt hearing. This appearance of partiality reveals a great risk that the court actually did prejudge the contempt hearing; therefore we conclude the court was objectively biased and the contempt order must be vacated.

In the same case, the judge hearing the appeal raised concerns about McGinnis imposing imprisonment for what was supposed to be a remedial matter; in other words, that the intent should be to correct the student’s behavior, not punish it:

Here, we are troubled by the courts imposition of imprisonment as a remedial sanction. First, after (the student) apologized to the court for not abiding by its order, the court told (the student) to “apologize to yourself because you are the one who is going to suffer the consequences. We are all going home this weekend. we are going to enjoy the beautiful weather.” Based on the court’s statements it appears there may have been a punitive intent to the court’s imprisonment sanction. If so, that would be entirely improper.

Media Trackers found reporting on at least two other instances of where McGinnis was reversed on appeal concerning treatment of a defendant. In one case McGinnis was found to have shown improper bias before sentencing a defendant. In the other, McGinnis was found by an appeals court to have exceeded his legal authority in sentencing a defendant for contempt. In that case, McGinnis appeared to be bothered, among other things, by the defendant rolling his eyes.

Media Trackers reached out to McGinnis for comment and McGinnis did return our call, leaving a voice mail. When we attempted via text and voice mail to follow up, McGinnis did not respond. Dupree told Media Trackers that another Outagamie County Circuit Judge, John Des Jardins, was willing to address the school board about the concerns raised about truancy court.

Media Trackers reached out via text to Des Jardins, who told us that he could not comment and that the issue would be the focus of a November 27 meeting of Administrative District 8 judges. Des Jardins did confirm that he offered to discuss the truancy court with the Appleton School Board.

Media Trackers also reached out to Appleton Area School District Superintendent Dr. Judy Baseman, emailing several questions. She offered a two sentence response via email:

Thank you for reaching out to me.  Given the concerns and questions that have been shared with us regarding truancy court held in the school setting, we are conducting a thorough review of our truancy court process and procedures.

Dupree told Media Trackers: “So many in the community are working to build unity and trust across barriers and these are the situations that tear down what we’re trying to build up.” Dupree says he believes the more recent cases involving McGinnis need to be exposed so the community can move forward.

You can view the appeals court ruling referenced above here:

McGinnis

You can hear Media Trackers Communication Director Jerry Bader’s interview with Alvin Dupree here: