Joe Kuemmel, a longtime Madison attorney, gives one take on the alleged conduct of a Dane County family court counselor.
"We have never run across a situation like that before," says Kuemmel, referring to himself and co-counsel Sharon Segall, who together have more than 70 years of experience in family law. "We were just so upset about this. It was an absolute fraud."
Kristen Ryan, director of the Dane County Family Court Counseling Service, offers another perspective: "When we have to make a decision in the best interest of kids, it's not uncommon for people to be unhappy."
In other words, an unhappy customer may be trying to get back at one of Ryan's employees. The employee is Sharon Koski, who was hired by the department in 2000. The unhappy customer is Daniel Ashmore, whom Kuemmel is representing in a custody dispute; Koski took stands contrary to what Ashmore and his attorneys wanted.
Last week, Ashmore filed a formal complaint against Koski with the state Department of Regulation and Licensing, charging her with perjury and fraud and asking that she face criminal charges. "She has deceived judges and lied under oath to enhance her credibility as an expert," the complaint states.
At issue is Koski's claim to be a licensed marriage and family therapist. Until earlier this month, she used the acronym "LMFT" on her business cards, the agency's website and, purportedly, in more than 300 court-ordered evaluations and 40-50 appearances as an expert witness.
According to the Department of Regulation and Licensing, Koski's temporary LMFT was pulled in March 2002, after she failed to pass the requisite national exam. (She subsequently flunked the test on two more occasions.) On Oct. 28, 2002, she received an email from agency regulator Jack Zweig saying she could work in the county's office without this credential. But Zweig also sent a list of prohibited practices, including one that bars using the title "marriage and family therapist" unless properly certified.
"She was told, if you don't have this credential, you can't use that designation," confirms Department of Regulation and Licensing spokesman David Carlson.
But Koski continued to put "LMFT" after her name, and, in Ashmore's court case, even claimed to be a doctor.
"I am educated as a clinical psychologist," she said on Sept. 12. "So, yes, I am a doctor in that sense."
In a follow-up hearing on Oct. 7, Kuemmel asked Koski whether she was a doctor. "By education, but not by licensing," she replied. He asked if she had "a doctorate degree from somewhere."
Koski: "I completed all the coursework."
Kuemmel: "That is not my question, ma'am. Do you have a doctorate degree?"
Koski: "No, I do not."
Ashmore's complaint questions Koski's other claimed credentials. Kuemmel suggests some of her evaluations and prior testimony could now be called into question. Koski did not return phone messages seeking her perspective.
In court and elsewhere, Koski has argued that she is licensed in the state of California. That license is inactive, but California says someone in this circumstance can still use the title on business cards and such.
But while this may be California's rule, it is not Wisconsin's. Jacquelynn Rothstein, an attorney with the state Department of Regulation and Licensing, reiterates what she recently told an investigator who asked about Koski's use of this title: "She shouldn't be doing that."
Ryan recently called Zweig and was told the same thing. And so she ordered new business cards for Koski and removed the "LMFT" from her website listing. Ryan says this was done "to protect her" and because this credential is not required.
The county's employment standards state that family court counselors must obtain a mental health professional license within a year of being hired. But Ryan says, "I don't know why that requirement is in there" because her staff does not do therapy or other work that requires a mental health certification.
And in Koski's case, says Ryan, the county's employment relations department decided in 2002 to "make an exception" to this requirement. Hence Koski "did meet the qualifications for the job, and she continues to meet them."
As for Ashmore's complaint, Ryan says, "I will trust the Department of Regulation and Licensing to investigate it." But Carlson says his agency's authority may be limited to enjoining a person from unlicensed practice, which in Koski's case might mean doing nothing at all.
Lake-level letter: The untold story
The state Department of Natural Resources' recent reply to the city of Madison's request for a review of lake levels ("DNR on Water Levels: Hurry Up and Wait," 11/14/08) went through several major revisions and still managed to tick off a city official.
"There were substantial changes from what we put together," says Ken Johnson, a DNR water expert who helped prepare the agency's initial response. "It was completely rewritten." He recalls three or four major rewrites, which he says is "unusual."
DNR staff sent a proposed response to agency head Matthew Frank in early September, about three weeks after the city sought this review, according to emails obtained by Isthmus. It was then sent around for extensive review.
"We've done a lot of crafting on this," wrote Frank's executive assistant, Mary Ellen Vollbrecht, in an email to Johnson on Oct. 24, shortly before telling Isthmus there was not much difference between the original and final version. Vollbrecht refused to release the proposed reply, calling it a "draft" and hence not subject to the state's open records law, a dubious assertion given that it was shared with others.
Johnson says the final letter, released Nov. 10, achieved some of what he hoped but differed in other respects. "I'd say it was probably softened a bit."
Perhaps not enough. An email from Johnson relates: "I got an angry call from [Madison City Engineer] Larry Nelson, concerning the letter sent out today. Larry's take on the letter was that DNR is saying there is not a problem. I did my best to convince him that's not what the letter was intended to say or for that matter says."
The letter asks Madison to suggest a specific lake-level reduction and take the lead in building support for it among 22 local governments and interest groups. This will take many months, leaving the city vulnerable next year to catastrophic flooding.
Among the latest casualties of newspaper decline is the illusion of competition between Madison's jointly owned dailies. The Capital Times and Wisconsin State Journal are increasingly involved in joint endeavors.
Sports staff for both papers produce the website A source at the Cap Times sees an upside: This will let the paper focus on things it does uniquely, further refining its identity as a local organ of progressive journalism. Gableman backs liars' rights Last week, in an underreported story, state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman issued his formal response to misconduct charges filed against him by the state Judicial Commission regarding claims made in one of his TV ads. Gableman's response denies the ad violated a state rule barring judicial candidates from making false and misleading statements. But its main thrust is to attack the rule as "unconstitutional in that it infringes [on] protected free speech." Gableman wants the rule struck down, so future judicial candidates can more freely lie their way into office. What a fitting legacy that would be for Justice Gableman.
A source at the Cap Times sees an upside: This will let the paper focus on things it does uniquely, further refining its identity as a local organ of progressive journalism.
Gableman backs liars' rights
Last week, in an underreported story, state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman issued his formal response to misconduct charges filed against him by the state Judicial Commission regarding claims made in one of his TV ads.
Gableman's response denies the ad violated a state rule barring judicial candidates from making false and misleading statements. But its main thrust is to attack the rule as "unconstitutional in that it infringes [on] protected free speech." Gableman wants the rule struck down, so future judicial candidates can more freely lie their way into office.
What a fitting legacy that would be for Justice Gableman.