Outagamie County Judge Under Investigation for Controversial Sentence in Civil Dispute Case

Outagamie County Judge Mark McGinnis is currently under investigation for his treatment of a cement contractor, Tyler Barth, during a probation hearing in 2021. Barth had been serving an 18-month probation sentence when the judge ordered him into court for unrelated issues, including driving on a suspended license and testing positive for THC. During the hearing, McGinnis accused Barth of taking thousands of dollars from someone and gave him a deadline to repay the money or face 90 days in jail. Barth protested his innocence but was still taken into custody. What was not known at the time was that Barth had received a threatening text message from a client who was upset about a delayed concrete pouring job. The client mentioned that his wife worked for a judge, implying a connection to McGinnis. The Department of Justice opened an investigation into McGinnis’ actions, but no charges have been filed yet.

The case highlights the limited oversight and immunity enjoyed by Wisconsin judges for their courtroom conduct. While judges have significant authority in imposing criminal penalties, using criminal proceedings to settle civil disputes goes beyond their lawful authority. Legal experts have questioned the basis for McGinnis’ actions and pointed out that judges are rarely punished for their actions on the bench.

McGinnis has previously faced scrutiny for his handling of cases. In 2007, he sentenced nonviolent offenders to work for a nonprofit without involving probation officers. He has also been accused of micromanaging and tightly controlling defendants’ lives. McGinnis owns an office building near the courthouse and arranged a deal with the Department of Corrections to house the probation department there. The 15-year lease has raised concerns about ethics and conflicts of interest.

Wisconsin judges have a broad immunity for their official actions on the bench, and removing a judge from office is a rare occurrence. Only one judge has been successfully removed by the state Supreme Court based on a complaint-driven recommendation. Most judges accused of misconduct receive public reprimands or temporary suspensions.

The investigation into McGinnis’ actions is being handled by state criminal investigators, as local law enforcement and the district attorney’s office recused themselves due to potential conflicts of interest. Barth’s defense attorney has raised concerns about potential misconduct by the judge, but holding judges accountable for actions on the bench is challenging. Barth has also expressed his hope that no one else will have to go through what he experienced. He has settled the financial dispute that led to his incarceration and moved on from the ordeal.