Documents show no probe into misconduct

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Ted Sullivan
Sunday, October 4, 2009
— Despite written complaints that Rock County juvenile probation officers were being ordered to lie in court, managers never interviewed staff members individually or documented an investigation, according to officials and county documents obtained by the Gazette.

The Rock County Human Services Board was told in an Aug. 25 memo from Charmian Klyve, human services director, that allegations of juvenile probation officers being told to act unethically and lie in court were investigated and unfounded.

The Gazette filed a request under the Wisconsin Open Records Law to obtain memos, e-mails and other documents related to that investigation.

The documents returned to the Gazette included no reports showing an investigation occurred.

Klyve, in a Sept. 18 memo to the human services board regarding the Gazette's open records request, wrote that Kerrie Kaner-Bischoff, former juvenile justice division manager, reported finding no basis for the misconduct allegations. Kaner-Bischoff resigned in August to move to Michigan and finished working last week.

The investigation was conducted by seeking information from the probation officer who made that allegation, according to Klyve's memo.

But Linda Graf, the juvenile probation officers union representative who made the allegations in two January memos, said no one talked to her or any other probation officers as part of an investigation.

"How can you say there was an investigation if you never spoke to anyone?" Graf said.

Staff meeting

Klyve and Jason Witt, deputy director of human services, told the Gazette that Kaner-Bischoff held a meeting with probation officers Jan. 15 to discuss issues within the department.

Kaner-Bischoff reported to her superiors after the meeting that no probation officers were directed to act unethically or lie in court, Witt said.

She also reported it wasn't necessary to talk to probation officers individually, Witt said.

Instead, Kaner-Bischoff reported probation officers felt discontent about their roles, which were clarified at the meeting, Witt said.

Probation officers were told they were expected to appear in court and make the department's recommendation on whether to detain juveniles, even if they personally disagreed with it, Witt said.

They might have been upset if they disagreed with the department's recommendation, but they weren't told to lie, Witt said.

Kaner-Bischoff later wrote an e-mail to prosecutors, public defenders and a judge, saying the opinions of juvenile probation officers are weighed heavily in the department's recommendations.

She also wrote that probation officers were directed to answer questions factually and honestly while in court, even if asked to offer their personal opinions.

In retrospect, Klyve said, it might have been better to follow-up on the allegations further.

"We did take Kerrie's conclusion that she was addressing it and determined it unfounded," Klyve said.

Meanwhile, an independent evaluator in Dane County has been hired to review the juvenile justice division and offer suggestions for improvement.

The evaluator also will review whether probation officers were asked to lie or act unethically, Klyve said.

Marv Wopat, human services board member, said board members welcome an independent review.

"We want what's best for the community, and what's best for the employees, and the No. 1 thing, what's best for the kids," Wopat said.

Juvenile justice problems

The juvenile probation office became the center of controversy after human services included the possibility of closing or partially closing the juvenile detention center to save money.

Since then, the department has finished its budget and has included keeping the detention center, but the county administrator makes the final decision.

Officials say juvenile probation officers were told to release juveniles to reduce the detention center's inmate population to make the argument for closing the facility.

According to two January memos written by Graf, juvenile probation officers:

-- Claimed their supervisors were asking them to act unethically, lie in court or withhold information to get kids released.

-- Were directed to make decisions contrary to their professional opinions.

-- Were having their decisions overturned when deciding to detain or sanction children who violate probation or get arrested.

-- Were told to not sanction kids in the diversion program because it would make diversion's numbers look bad.

-- Were encouraged to get kids out of placement because of the budget.

Officer disciplined

Graf was disciplined for insubordination after writing her first memo. She was verbally reprimanded because she failed to follow a directive to provide names, dates and times to support her allegations, according to documents.

Graf said she didn't include names and times because her complaints had become routine office culture.

"I'm sure if you sat down with any or all of the workers, each worker could recite a list of times that this has occurred," Graf wrote in her first memo.

Graf was then directed to write a second memo with names and times to support her allegations, according to documents.

She also was offered an opportunity to recant her allegations in writing or ignore the directive and possibly be fired.

'This is unethical'

Two days later, Graf wrote the second memo, a three-page document with the names of nine people involved in her complaints.

This time, the memo met the office's directive of providing names and times supporting her allegations, according to documents.

Graf listed numerous examples of problems in the juvenile probation office.

She named the probation officers who said "they're telling us to lie in court" and "this is unethical."

Graf also told managers about a case where a juvenile probation officer was ordered to recommend releasing a juvenile because detention would not be good for diversion numbers.

The probation officer appeared in court and provided the judge with facts surrounding the case. The probation officer did not make a recommendation to the judge on whether to release the juvenile.

The judge decided to detain the child.

When the probation officer returned to the office, her supervisor "yelled at her and told her that she should have just told the judge that we wanted the juvenile released and not provided any additional information."

The probation officer responded, saying withholding information would be the equivalent of lying to the court. She was then threatened with discipline.

After the incident was reported, the probation officer said, no one talked to her as part of an investigation.

'I need to follow-up immediately'

Graf was told to write the second memo because "based on the seriousness of the allegations, I need to follow-up immediately," Kaner-Bischoff wrote in a memo to Graf.

Kaner-Bischoff also wrote an e-mail to her managers, saying she intended to speak to workers individually about the allegations.

That never happened, Graf said.

"My impression was they read the second memo, and said, 'Uh, this is no big deal,'" Graf said.

Documents received in the Gazette's open records request reveal management's unhappiness with Graf.

Jeremy Brown, Graf's supervisor, wrote an e-mail to Kaner-Bischoff on Feb. 26 regarding Graf's evaluation.

"I am going to be critical of her behavior regarding the changes this department is trying to implement and concerning her undermining of what we are trying to accomplish," he wrote.

"I will also touch base on her blatant disregard for chain of command and her failure on two occasions to follow a directive."

Graf, after reviewing the documents, said the juvenile probation office is trying to discredit her.

"They tried to really portray this as, 'It's just Linda making trouble,'" Graf said. "I really want it solved."

Last updated: 11:49 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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