Hobart administrator, Kramer, convicted of forgery
By Kevin Boneske
GREEN BAY – Hobart Village Administrator Aaron Kramer has been fined $500 plus costs and ordered to pay $700 in restitution.
Kramer pleaded no contest Thursday, Sept. 16, in Brown County Circuit Court to a misdemeanor count of being party to the crime of forgery.
He entered into a plea agreement instead of standing trial on the charge, which carries a maximum penalty of up to nine months in jail and/or a $10,000 fine.
Kramer was accused of directing a clerk last year to forge the name of the sitting municipal judge to remove a substitute judge.
During his sentencing hearing before Judge Thomas Walsh, Kramer said he was “profoundly sorry for the decision that I made, which resulted in an unauthorized signature of Judge Ronald VanLanen to be sent to the court system.”
“I have never had any criminal violations in my life until this incident, and I never will again,” he said.
The charge against him was filed Aug. 19 after the Appleton Police Department was called to conduct an investigation into allegations of misconduct in office involving Kramer.
Kramer was accused of directing the clerk to remove Carley Windorff as a substitute judge for VanLanen, then the Hobart/Lawrence municipal judge, without his knowledge or consent.
On Feb. 13, 2020, court records state VanLanen requested Windorff, an attorney, to fill in for him during a medical leave, and he signed an application, which was submitted to the 8th Judicial District for approval.
The application was approved electronically March 2, 2020, by Judicial District Court Administrator Thomas Schappa.
On May 14, 2020, court records state Hobart/Lawrence Police Chief Randy Bani contacted Kramer about Windorff, who was temporarily assigned as municipal judge over the Hobart/Lawrence Municipal Court.
Bani said Windorff also represented a village employee – Dan VanLanen, a Hobart/Lawrence officer and the son of Ronald VanLanen – in her capacity as a private attorney.
It was on May 14, 2020, Kramer directed the clerk to have Windorff removed as a municipal judge.
In response to Kramer’s directive, court records state the clerk drafted an application for municipal judicial assignment requesting Gregg Schreiber be assigned as the municipal judge, without telling Ronald VanLanen about the application, on which the clerk forged VanLanen’s signature.
Court records further state the application was sent May 15, 2020, to the district court administrator, to act on “as soon as possible,” and approved six days later, with Windorff removed and replaced by Schreiber.
Schreiber, a Lawrence resident who was a municipal judge in the Village of Howard for about 20 years, was subsequently appointed in March as the Hobart/Lawrence municipal judge by the village and town boards following VanLanen’s resignation in February.
Schreiber’s appointment runs until April 2022, when a special election will be held with the winner serving the remainder of the four-year term ending in April 2024.
No one consulted
Kramer’s attorney, Stephen Kravit, said his client is not an attorney and should have instead consulted one and educated himself on how municipal judges are appointed.
“He is responsible for the fiscal sanity (and) security of the Village of Hobart, which he takes very seriously,” Kravit said. “Ms. Windorff represented a village employee against the village. Nobody asked her to do that. She didn’t tell anybody she was doing that. She showed up on May 14, (2020), representing Dan VanLanen, the municipal judge’s son, in a disciplinary hearing on a serious matter.”
Kravit said the hearing, which had nothing to do with Kramer, resulted in Dan VanLanen being demoted from a lieutenant to an investigator.
“Ms. Windorff didn’t have to represent Dan VanLanen,” he said. “There are many reasons she did. One reason, I suspect, is because Dan VanLanen picked her to be the temporary municipal judge in a meeting with the municipal clerk, back in February of 2020, when Judge VanLanen said he was ill and he was going to have to take a leave of absence.”
Kravit said Kramer determined Windorff had a conflict of interest, though his client was “wrong to not go through the right process” in removing her as judge.
“The right process, it turns out, was not to call Judge VanLanen, because it was humane not to do that (with him on medical leave),” he said. “The right process was to find that obscure statute that allows you to go straight to the state Supreme Court to seek a temporary appointment of a municipal judge.”
Kravit said Kramer intends to continue his position as village administrator following his conviction, and it would be up to the Hobart Village Board as to whether he should be disciplined.
“They’re very happy with him,” he said. “He’s done a superb job as village administrator.”
A press release issued from the Village of Hobart following Kramer’s sentencing hearing stated the matter will be placed on the Village Board’s agenda for a regularly scheduled meeting, but it was not included in the meeting agenda Tuesday, Sept. 21.
Court records state Windorff expressed concern municipal officials unilaterally sidestepped the sitting judge’s authority in ordering her replaced with Schreiber because that authority has to come from the sitting municipal judge or district court chief judge.
Windorff, who is to receive the $700 in restitution and provided a victim impact statement in court, took exception with Kravit’s remarks.
“To the defense attorney’s point, my term expired not on May 14, 2020, but on May 31, 2020,” she said in a statement to The Press Times. “So it is disingenuous to say that my term had expired because the order clearly states it goes through end of May.”
Windorff said it would have been up to the sitting municipal judge or the district court administrator, and not Kramer, whether she should be removed as a substitute judge.
“There was no nefarious arrangement with the VanLanens,” she said. “If Judge VanLanen didn’t have a conflict because my client was his son, then how do I have a conflict? The victim-blaming by (Kramer’s) attorney was atrocious.”
Windorff said she didn’t have a conflict representing Dan VanLanen, and she hadn’t presided over any cases in municipal court because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Had Dan VanLanen been a witness in a case before her, she said she would have recused herself.
Windorff said she spoke May 14, 2020, on the phone with Kramer about Bani being upset she was representing Dan VanLanen.
“(Kramer) sort of laughed and said something about people get upset when the village administrator doesn’t have the authority to do what they want him to do,” she said. “It was my, I guess, feeling or belief that based on this phone conversation I had with the defendant on that date that he understood… He sort of brushed it off and laughed and said this isn’t something that’s in his authority to do to remove me as a substitute judge.”
After contacting Ronald VanLanen and finding out he didn’t authorize removing her as a substitute judge, Windorff said she reported the matter to law enforcement.
Windorff said she is astounded as to why the Hobart Village Board hasn’t removed Kramer as the village administrator over the past year after Kramer admitted in an email it was him who ordered the decision to forge the sitting judge’s signature and remove her as a substitute judge.
“The village did nothing,” she said. “They sent it to their village attorney, (Frank Kowalkowski), who essentially lambasted me in this sort of a shell investigation conducted at taxpayer expense.”
Windorff said she feels slighted by village officials who “essentially usurped the municipal court’s authority for what appeared to be nothing but retaliation for my representation of this particular employee.”
She said the response to her inquiries about her removal “was offensive, it was frankly borderline sexist and it was very demeaning.”
Though she doesn’t reside in Hobart or Lawrence, Windorff said she has family and friends who live there.
“I think that people charged with crimes, even at an ordinance level, deserve to have their cases considered by a neutral judge, not a puppet of the police department,” she said.
Windorff thanked Appleton Police Department Sgt. Chue Thao, who investigated the matter, and Randall Schneider, the special prosecutor from Outagamie County, as well as the judge for their handling of the case.
“I believe Judge Walsh did an excellent job considering this case,” she said.
Schneider said a misdemeanor rather than a felony forgery charge was appropriate to bring against Kramer.
“The primary reason why this is a misdemeanor, instead of a felony, is that he didn’t really gain anything through this offense,” he said. “His motive for committing this offense was that I think he and others in the village wanted to punish Judge Windorff for representing a municipal employee, and so this chain of events happened.”
Schneider said how Kramer acted showed bad judgment, though the village administrator still has good character.
“He insisted there was a conflict of interest, but he certainly did not do his due diligence to determine whether that was a real conflict,” he said. “He didn’t consult with lawyers before he took action. He didn’t consult with the judicial district. He didn’t talk to Judge VanLanen. He probably didn’t look at the statutes, and in fact, as I look at it, Judge Windorff did not have any kind of conflict…”
Schneider said probation wasn’t necessary for Kramer, because he doesn’t have any rehabilitative needs, nor would jail time be needed because he has suffered the public humiliation of being convicted of a crime.
“Based on my conversations with counsel, I believe this offense has affected the defendant deeply, both mentally and physically,” he said. “I think the point has been made to him. He’s led a good life up to now. He’s accepted responsibility, and I really believe that this is a one-off offense. I don’t believe there is a risk that this type of act will be committed in the future.”
In imposing the sentence, Walsh said the victim in this case is the public at large.
“Many people think that government simply doesn’t work,” he said. “I don’t know if people (in the Village of) Hobart think their government doesn’t work… But it’s clear many people think that government doesn’t work, not only here locally in our community, but broader, in our state and our country.”
Walsh said offenses, such as the one Kramer committed, compound the problem.
“All of us are harmed as trust tanks,” he said. “All of us in this community are harmed when that trust in our governmental institutions starts to tank.”
Walsh said Kramer didn’t have the authority to remove Windorff as a substitute judge, though he had a concern about her having a conflict by representing the son of the municipal judge.
“As a citizen, he has the right to say, ‘I see a problem,’” he said. “But he had an obligation, as a servant of the public, to look into what the steps were.”
Because Kramer didn’t consult with someone about the appropriate process for removing a substitute judge, Walsh said “the public looks at the situation and says, ‘There’s something weird going on, there’s something strange going on, and I don’t know quite what it is.’ And we’re all harmed by that.”
Walsh said he agreed with Schneider that placing Kramer on probation wouldn’t serve any useful purpose.
“I think Mr. Kramer knows what he needs to do,” he said. “I think in this situation, he probably knew what he needed to do as well, which is, ‘I’ve never done this before, I should ask somebody what to do, but it’s easier to do it this way, so I’ll do it this way.’ And that’s what happened. Again, I’m not sure if the people in (the Village of) Hobart think that’s an issue or not, but I’m satisfied that it is.”
Walsh agreed to give Kramer 30 days to pay the fine and restitution.