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Criminal defense bar wants judge to apologize, vacate contempt finding

The state’s criminal defense bar is calling out a Milwaukee trial court judge for his behavior at a hearing last week.

Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge David Borowski found Assistant State Public Defender Puck Tsai in contempt of court at a hearing Friday and had him handcuffed and belly-chained.

Tsai had been arguing against cash bail for his client, Milwaukee resident Marcus Wilborn, who was charged in July with a felony count of homicide by the negligent operation of a vehicle. Wilborn had been released on signature bond in August.

Tsai contended that the diluted drug-test result was inconclusive and did not indicate that Wilborn had violated his bail conditions, according to a transcript of the hearing.

Tsai suggested retesting and attempted to also argue that the complaint had failed to mention that the collision had happened not just because of the drugs in Wilborn’s system but also because the deceased driver had run a stop sign.

Borowski cut him off, and Tsai later attempted to continue his argument, according to the transcript.

“Judge, this is – Judge, I wasn’t able to finish any one complete sentence,” said Tsai. “That’s fine with your honor. You know I want to highlight for the court that this is a person standing here in front of the court – an innocent person.”

“No kidding,” Borowski responded. “I get that. Sit down. Counsel if you don’t knock – Deputy, take him into custody for contempt. Rolling your eyes, throwing your hands in the air, acting like I’m some kind of idiot gets you locked up for contempt. We’ll discuss purge later. In the meantime, he sits in custody.”

When the hearing reconvened, the SPD Deputy Regional Attorney Manager for Milwaukee Trial, Paige Styler, appeared on behalf of Tsai and Wilborn, and Tsai apologized to Borowski, who released Tsai from custody.

After examining a transcript of the hearing, Chad Lanning, president of the Wisconsin Association for Criminal Defense Attorneys, issued a statement calling on Borowski to apologize to Tsai and vacate the contempt finding – or resign.

“Judges should never jail attorneys or litigants appearing before them because the judge is having a bad day,” Lanning said. “The transcript clearly shows that Judge Borowski failed to follow the correct procedure for finding someone in summary contempt. At best, Judge Borowski did not understand or correctly apply the law of summary contempt and should be required to explain and rectify his actions.”

Lanning also noted in his statement that WACDL is continuing to investigate the matter and other allegations it has received concerning Borowski’s judicial temperament.


About Erika Strebel, erika.strebel@wislawjournal.com

Erika Strebel is the law beat reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal and a law school student at UW-Madison. She can be reached at 414-225-1825.

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