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Vilas County Board votes down one resolution, tables other that called for two elected officials to resign

Katie Thoresen
/
WXPR

The Vilas County Board discussed the conduct of two Vilas County elected officials during its board meeting Tuesday.

A May 22 article by the Vilas County News Review detailed an affair between Vilas County Judge Daniel Overbey and Clerk of Courts Beth Soltow, both elected officials, and how it negatively impacted courthouse operations and staff.

Details from the article were used to draft two resolutions calling for Overbey and Soltow to resign or be removed from their positions by the Governor.

If neither of those happened, then the resolution says the county would support a recall election of the two.

The resolutions point to reporting that several court officials were “made aware of the affair and were monitoring the situation” and “the consequences of this alleged affair and aftermath resulted in dysfunction and tension occurring between the two court branches and Clerk of Courts staff, with staff members fearing for their jobs and at least one resignation attributed to the affair.”

According to Overbey, the relationship ended in summer 2023. Soltow said told the board it was disclosed in November 2023.

Soltow spoke during public comment asking the board to vote no on the resolution.

She told board members she had shame and guilt from the affair and the impact it had on personal and professional relationships, but defended herself that it did not lead to disarray in her Clerk of Courts office.

“You know me, and you know my character, especially you Mr. Burkett. I would not treat my own staff, nor another office’s staff, with cruelty,” said Soltow. “My staff did not leave. My staff has stuck with me on this. That treatment is not something I was witness to, nor would have tolerated.”

Her husband also spoke in her favor and asked the board to vote no on the resolution.

County Board Chair Gerald Burkett said he’s heard from people who are uncomfortable being in the courthouse because of the situation.

“I care when it effects the working environment of this courthouse, this courthouse which we have all been elected to run, sit on commissions, and try and make efficient, make do with too little money, make this a safer, wonderful environment for people to visit and to live in. This is with a heavy heart that I do this,” said Burkett.

Many of the Vilas County Board Members said it was not the county board’s place to call for Soltow’s resignation and that if the people of Vilas County feel she’s not doing her duties as an elected official, then someone can start the recall petition.

“That private citizen needs to do that if they feel it's necessary,” said Board Member Leah Trojan. “I just don't feel it's our jurisdiction."

Others said there’s not enough proof that the Clerk of Courts Office is not functioning as it should.

“From what I can understand, there are not issues in the Clerk of Courts Office. I have heard nothing in terms of anyone coming to me and saying there’s a problem in this office. I don’t think there is. Has there been some inappropriate action? Yes, but we’re all people. Sometimes we act inappropriately,” said Vice-Chairman Carolyn Ritter.

The board voted 18 to 2 against the resolution regarding Soltow.

Burkett asked County Clerk Kim Olkowski to read aloud a letter from Overbey who was not able to attend the county board meeting due to his court schedule.

He expressed shame and humiliation for the affair but said it didn’t impact his ability to deliver justice, nor is the courthouse in “disarray”.

“Judges are held to a high standard and they should be. But Judges are also human. The relationship was inappropriate and I am ashamed and humiliated. Nevertheless, I will continue to do the job I was elected to do and administer justice with compassion, firmness, fairness and impartiality,” the letter stated.

In the letter, Overbey said the state Judicial Commission is investigating. He asked the county board to hold off on its resolution until that investigation is complete.

“The Judicial Commission is the entity responsible for the discipline of Judges. They will consider all of the evidence, not just a newspaper article and leaked personal emails. The matter is in front of them and I will cooperate fully with them just as I have with the Director of State Courts and I will accept their decision,” Overbey stated in the letter.

The board voted to table the resolution regarding Overbey, with the board member who made the motion to table saying they needed more information.

WXPR emailed the Wisconsin Judicial Commission to get an update on the status of the investigation.

The commission would not confirm or deny the investigation stating, “Given the confidentiality of Commission proceedings under state law, the Commission does not comment on actual or potential complaints. This includes confirmation to a third-party concerning whether a complaint was filed with the Commission or the status of any such complaint."

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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