Shortly after Waukesha County courts opened to the public in late June, someone complained that Waukesha County Circuit Judge Brad Schimel was not enforcing the mask mandate set down by the top court officials for in-person hearings and trials.
Schimel did not respond well.
The former Republican attorney general sent an email on June 25 to a small group of individuals who worked in his courtroom, noting that he had just been called in by Judge Jennifer Dorow, chief judge of the 3rd Judicial District, for not enforcing the mandate aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus.
Mask mandates were adopted both by the state Supreme Court in May and by Dorow's office for Waukesha County judges a month later. These are separate from the one issued by Gov. Tony Evers.
"First, I do not intend to wear a mask," Schimel wrote, citing chronic sinus issues that he said were aggravated by wearing a mask for extended periods. "Thus, for my own health, I will not be wearing a mask."
It was a position and attitude that would land the first-term judge in seriously hot water.
Officials with the state Public Defender's Office began complaining that Schimel was endangering the public by ignoring the mask mandate.
Then, on Aug. 28, Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack intervened, barring Schimel from appearing in person for hearings in his own courtroom. For the next five weeks, Schimel sat alone in his judicial chambers — sans mask — and handled cases via Zoom, appearing on a large screen in the courtroom, where his staff, a bailiff, lawyers and defendants often sat.