Brendan Dassey's meowing former lawyer is suspended from the bench
Len Kachinsky. Photo from the Winnebago County Jail.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has suspended Brendan Dassey’s former lawyer from acting as a reserve municipal judge because of his unusual interactions with a court manager who accused him of harassment.
The court suspended Len Kachinsky from the bench for three years, retroactive to July 2018, report the Associated Press, Law360 and the Legal Profession Blog. He did not seek reelection this spring and has been suspended since last July, when he was arrested on a felony stalking charge based on his treatment of the staff member at the municipal court in Fox Crossing, Wisconsin.
Kachinsky’s former client Dassey was profiled in the Making a Murderer Netflix docuseries. Dassey was convicted of helping his uncle kill photographer Teresa Halbach in a case that raised concerns about his confession. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Dassey’s appeal last year.
Kachinsky was acquitted in the criminal stalking case in December. His former lawyer in the criminal case had blamed the stalking charge partly on his client’s quirky personality, which included meowing randomly.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court suspended Kachinsky despite the acquittal in a July 9 opinion, finding that his behavior toward the staffer violated judicial ethics rules. The court cited one incident in which Kachinsky made “cat noises.”
“We fail to see how staring at a court employee for 45 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,” the court said.
Kachinsky had hired the court manager in spring 2016, and the two were on good terms at the beginning of her employment, according to the Wisconsin Supreme Court opinion. Occasionally, they talked about their personal lives and even went running together a few times.
Their relationship became strained partly because of an incident in which Kachinsky popped up from his hiding place behind a counter and shouted, “Roar!” Kachinsky also referred to the manager as one of his best friends in an email and asked her to pose in selfie pictures with him and in the courtroom.
The manager told Kachinsky that she wanted to keep their relationship work-related, but he nonetheless sent emails inviting her to continue running with him and referring to himself as “both the boss and a close friend.” While he agreed to limit discussions of nonbusiness matters during work hours, he nonetheless said he wanted to continue to discuss matters in their personal lives.
The manager was also disturbed when Kachinsky told her that he knew that her mother had visited her house the previous weekend because he had seen her mother’s location on a “nearby friends” app on Facebook. Kachinsky says he told the manager about his knowledge because he wanted her mother to know that her cellphone was broadcasting location information to others on Facebook.
The manager lodged a complaint about Kachinsky with the village manager, who met with Kachinsky to set guidelines for his behavior. Kachinsky ignored those guidelines, according to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. “Indeed, his subsequent conduct indicated that he was upset as a result of the meeting and was determined to express his displeasure” to the court manager.
The cat meowing incident followed. He also told the court manager a story about a dog being raped and repeated it a second time. He continued to send emails, including one asking her to “hit the reset button” on their relationship and expressing disappointment that she had unfriended him on Facebook. Another invited her to a “beer or wine summit … to discuss the relationship issue.”
In an email to the human resources manager, Kachinsky said the court manager should be advised to “give a little bit on the work-only thing,” and if she didn’t change her behavior, he had no alternative but to fire her. The village attorney responded with a letter telling Kachinsky his behavior constituted retaliatory conduct.
In a later incident, Kachinsky lunged at the manager’s desk, knocked off some items, and whispered, “Are you afraid of me now?”
Kachinsky also sent a November 2017 email to the court manager that said, “By this time next week some things are going to happen that will cause a lot of fire and fury at the Municipal Building. No, I am not resigning. Just be psychologically prepared. Have a good weekend.”
When the police chief interviewed Kachinsky about the email, he giggled more than once, according to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
The court manager later obtained a temporary harassment injunction against Kachinsky.
Kachinsky’s license to practice law remains intact. He currently handles criminal appeals in Neenah, according to Law360. After his suspension from the bench, he will have to establish his fitness if he applies to serve as a reserve judge.
Kachinsky told Law360 that the ethics case stemmed from a “personality conflict” that got out of hand, leading to a false accusation that he had engaged in some form of sexual harassment.
“There were problems in the relationship, but the [city] administration was trying to tell me it was sexual harassment, which caused me to resist them more than I otherwise would have,” he said.