Records: Pattern of harassment swirled around Judge Lundell
Newly released records describe a climate of disturbing encounters, leering looks and provocative political commentary that surrounded Eric Lundell while he served as presiding judge of St. Croix County Circuit Court.
The now-retired judge left a wake of vexed employees in the county courts system during the months leading up to his retirement, which coincided with revelations about alleged harassment, according to previously unreleased St. Croix County documents compiled during an investigation into a complaint against Lundell.
Shortly after his retirement announcement, Hudson police stopped Lundell during a suspected drunken-driving incident. Police later said there was insufficient evidence during field-sobriety exercises to arrest Lundell during the Dec. 8, 2018, traffic stop, where the judge later provided a preliminary breath test that showed a 0.129 blood-alcohol level.
Lundell retired Jan. 1.
His friend River Falls attorney Barry Hammarback said Lundell had no comment for this story. Hammarback said in February that Lundell had since voluntarily entered and completed a 30-day rehab program and had gone on to outpatient support.
Records released by St. Croix County's Human Resources department include individual interviews conducted after Lundell was accused of making unwanted advances toward a female employee while they were at work in the Government Center.
A second woman revealed to HR investigators that Lundell had asked her out, though that woman didn't file a complaint.
The names of witnesses and victims were redacted from the St. Croix County records.
The first woman to come forward — the one who filed the complaint — told investigators Lundell approached her Nov. 2, 2018, and asked her to come to his house. He told her she "trips his trigger" and that he'd dreamt about her, the records state.
Later that day, Lundell returned to the woman's desk, sat behind her for about 30 minutes and asked what she thought of his offer. He told her he could make her "a rich widow," according to the documents.
The woman told investigators she didn't feel physically threatened by Lundell, but was "very uncomfortable and didn't want to be alone with him," according to a report from her interview.
Investigators asked what outcome she wanted.
"I want him to resign or retire," the woman replied. "He is not in his right mind right now. He shouldn't be sentencing people."
Caitlin Frederick, a human resources officer from the state's management services department, led the investigation and compiled a report. She said in the report's conclusion that statements from witnesses "suggest a pattern of inappropriate and/or unprofessional behavior by Judge Lundell that could also be potentially construed as harassment."
Frederick's report notes Lundell did not attend respectful workplace training in fall 2018, which was not mandatory for judges. Her report to Director of State Courts Randy Koschnick recommends making such training mandatory for all circuit court judges and Supreme Court justices in Wisconsin.
Asked if that recommendation has led to changes, Tom Sheehan, court information officer for the Director of State Courts Office, indicated it has not.
"Respectful Workplace/Sexual Harassment Prevention Training is mandatory for state court system employees and is available to all judges," he said in response to an email inquiry.
It's not clear whether the Lundell investigation led to a complaint with the Wisconsin Judicial Commission. Jeremiah Van Hecke, executive director of the commission, said he could not confirm whether a complaint concerning Lundell had been filed.
"Given the confidentiality laws under which the Commission is required to operate, the Commission does not comment on any actual or potential complaints filed with the Commission against judicial officials," Van Hecke said in an email.
'She can feel his eyes'
The woman who came forward told investigators how Lundell had twirled her hair in the past and made other comments about her appearance but that his behavior "has been 'getting worse' for several months," the report states. She said that culminated Nov. 2 with Lundell's advances.
A written statement from a witness describes how the complainant came to her office after the incident. The complainant described what Lundell told her, relating that the judge "made it very clear that he was interested in her, in a sexual way," according to the document. The witness urged the complainant to report the encounter with Lundell, which she did — first to St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Scott Needham, who alerted Court Administrator Don Harper, who notified St. Croix County Human Resources Director Tarra Davies-Fox.
Other witnesses reported seeing the complainant in tears later that day as she recounted Lundell's overtures. One of those witnesses said she tried consoling the complainant and told her "he asked me out, too."
That witness described how Lundell wouldn't leave the bench until he watched her walk out.
"She can feel his eyes on her butt and legs," the report states.
That same woman also said Lundell had previously admitted he's had trouble with sexual harassment in the past.
The documents state an incident from about 20 years prior was described. Davies-Fox requested an employee find records from that incident; Davies-Fox later told RiverTown Multimedia that those records were likely destroyed, per the county's retention schedule.
That same witness told investigators how Lundell's commenting on gay people, politics and women's body sizes "drives her nuts."
"Such a waste after all those years on the bench," the report states.
A letter from a different witness said she was reluctant to come forward at first, but hit her breaking point after the Nov. 2 revelation.
"Judge Lundell's behavior has been escalating and I just couldn't take it any longer," the letter states. "He is a judge and a man of power and I was afraid to come forward. I was afraid of what would happen to me and my family if I said anything." Her letter outlines times Lundell made her uncomfortable, including how he would stand over her shoulder while she was at her desk. Her letter also describes how Lundell once gave her a T-shirt that read "Don't be an ordinary witch."
County Board commentary
Lundell's alleged commentary about politics wasn't limited to the courtroom, according to the report.
Interview notes include a statement from Harper, who said he was told by a different county employee how Lundell's comments during a Community Justice Coordinating Council event in Eau Claire raised concerns, along with separate remarks Lundell made during a St. Croix County Board meeting.
The Eau Claire meeting involved comments about "dumb liberals" and "dumb Democrats" by Lundell, according to Harper.
The second round of comments came during a County Board meeting where a Muslim cleric delivered the invocation.
"Judge Lundell made the comment to just go in for two minutes and hold your breath," the Harper interview report states. "It was interpreted that this was said with the intent to indicate that the Priest/Muslims had an odor."
The documents don't specify when the remark was made, but a member of the Islamic Society of Woodbury delivered the invocation at an Aug. 7, 2018, County Board meeting.
An Aug. 9, 2018, email from Harper to Needham states Community Justice Coordinating Council coordinator Mike O'Keefe "may strongly consider retirement next year if Lundell continues in his current position."
In an interview with RiverTown Multimedia this month said he has "let bygones be bygones." He said Lundell was "old school" and that he sometimes reflected attitudes from the 1970s.
"That made it difficult sometimes," O'Keefe said. "But he was fair."
O'Keefe said he heard Lundell make reference to Democrats at the 2018 Eau Claire meeting, but he said he doesn't recall the former judge describing them as "dumb." He also said he was not aware of Lundell's alleged County Board commentary.
The complainant came forward to coworkers Nov. 2, which set into motion a chain of events that led to Lundell's resignation.
According to the records, the complainant emailed Davies-Fox the following Monday, Nov. 5, after speaking with Judge Needham. The meeting with Needham was also attended by the other woman who had been asked out by Lundell.
Davies-Fox learned on Nov. 6 that Lundell, who was on vacation at the time, decided not to come into work. Frederick, the state's HR representative, got involved Nov. 6 and set up a meeting with her, Davies-Fox and court administrator Harper.
A department supervisor emailed Davies-Fox Nov. 7 to learn the status of Lundell's return to work.
The complainant and witnesses were interviewed Nov. 12-13.
On Nov. 15, Davies-Fox tells Frederick that Harper learned 10th Circuit Court Chief Judge Maureen Boyle had spoken with Lundell the previous day "and they agreed Judge Lundell would not come into the Government Center," an email states. The agreement was that Lundell was to stay away for the rest of the week — or until Boyle or State Courts Director Judge Randy Koschnick had spoken with him.
An email from a county facilities official states Lundell's access to the building ended Nov. 20.
Harper responded to a media request into Lundell's status with a statement announcing his retirement. The statement cites "non-life threatening health issues and because of my advancing age."
"I feel as though it is time to turn things over to younger judges," Lundell's statement says, which goes on to recognize his accomplishments in St. Croix County, including being the youngest-ever elected district attorney.