The Curious Case of Chris J. Cornelius

As seen in the documents Oneida Eye posted yesterday regarding the judicial officers assigned to Trial Court Docket 13-TC-126, Leah Sue Dodge v. Oneida Land Commission, the inclusion of Chris J. Cornelius is obviously inappropriate given that her mother, Pat Cornelius, is a member of the Land Commission (Respondent) and voted on the matter at issue.

Therefore the Plaintiff called for Chris Cornelius’ recusal on that basis which should clearly be granted.

Beyond the aspect of why it was inappropriate to assign Chris Cornelius to a case involving her mother is the question as to how Chris could be considered an appropriate judicial officer in any case given the facts of the following Appellate Court decision:


This case arises out of a single incident which occurred on January 23, 2007. Deputy William Schommer, of the Outagamie County Sheriff’s Department, received information that Ruben Bautista-Sebastian, subject to a want or warrant, was at Ms. Cornelius’ residence. Mr. Bautista- Sebastian was Ms. Cornelius’ fiancé. Deputy Schommer had been given a physical description of Mr. Bautista-Sebastian’s car. Upon arrival at Ms. Cornelius’ residence, Deputy Schommer noticed a blue Ford Festiva in the driveway, matching the physical description of Mr. Bautista- Sebastian’s car.2 Deputy Schommer confirmed Mr. Bautista-Sebastian was wanted on a warrant. Deputy Schommer approached the residence and Ms. Cornelius answered the door. Deputy Schommer confirmed Ms. Cornelius was a law enforcement officer. Deputy Schommer then asked Ms. Cornelius if she knew the location of Mr. Bautista-Sebastian. Ms. Cornelius stated he was at work even though he was in fact inside at her residence.

A brief conversation ensued between Ms. Cornelius and Deputy Schommer. Deputy Schommer asked several questions of Ms. Cornelius regarding Mr. Bautista-Sebastian and his whereabouts. Ms. Cornelius denied Mr. Bautista-Sebastian’s presence at the residence. According to Deputy Schommer she repeatedly lied. In Ms. Cornelius’ view, “Within the course of this conversation a few minutes, I corrected my own error.” Eventually Ms. Cornelius conceded Mr. Bautista- Sebastian was at the residence. Mr. Bautista-Sebastian came to the front door and was peacefully taken into custody.

…After the encounter at Ms. Cornelius’ residence on January 23, 2007, Deputy Schommer contacted Ms. Cornelius’ supervisor Sgt. Daniel House, and advised Sgt. House that Ms. Cornelius had not been truthful about Mr. Bautista-Sebastian’s location. Sgt. House began his investigation into the alleged violations of departmental rules or regulations by interviewing the deputies involved who were Deputy Schommer, Outagamie Deputy Bart Barrington and Oneida officer William Cone. Officers Barrington and Cone had also been dispatched to Ms. Cornelius’ residence to assist Deputy Schommer on January 23, 2007, but arrived after Mr. Bautista- Sebastian had been taken into custody. Sgt. House also obtained written statements from the deputies. In addition, Sgt. House met with Ms. Cornelius and obtained her written statement about the incident.

At the conclusion of his investigation, Sgt. House concluded Ms. Cornelius had violated Oneida Police Department Rules and Regulations, Standard Operating Procedures and Code of Conduct. Sgt. House determined the violations were serious enough to warrant Ms. Cornelius’ termination from employment.

On January 28, 2007, Ms. Cornelius was terminated from the Oneida Police Department for violations of the Oneida Police Department Internal Affairs Standard Operating Procedures:
§ 2.2 Serious Misconduct Complaint, Rules and Regulations Standard Operating Procedures:  §§ 4.3.11, 4.3.25, 4.5.13, 5.1, 5.18, 5.28, and violation of Law Enforcement Code of Ethics.

…We have carefully reviewed the evidence and the applicable law in this case. We vote to uphold the OPC decision. The decision to uphold the decision largely rests on the fact that Ms. Cornelius, a law enforcement officer sworn to uphold the law, lied to another police officer in order to conceal the location of her fiancé who had an outstanding warrant. Under any view of the facts and the law, such conduct merits termination. Those assigned to enforce and uphold the law lose the privilege to do so when they violate law.

…This factor weighs in favor of the Oneida Police Department. Ms. Cornelius admitted she knew that lying to a police officer is misconduct. She stated that in the course of her work as a law enforcement officer she had dealt with suspects who had lied to her.

Ms. Cornelius testified that when she saw Deputy Schommer’s car in her driveway, she had a bad feeling she was going to lose her job. She felt this before she knew the reason for Deputy Schommer’s visit. Her statement shows that Ms. Cornelius knew it was wrong to even be associating with Mr. Bautista-Sebastian, much less lying about his whereabouts. Ms. Cornelius had no reason to fear for her job without even knowing the nature of Deputy Schommer’s visit – unless she was doing something she wasn’t supposed to be doing.

There can be little argument Ms. Cornelius knew lying to a police officer violates several Oneida Police Department rules and is a violation of Wis. Stat. § 946.41, which makes it a crime to obstruct a law enforcement officer.

…This factor weighs in favor of the Oneida Police Department. The Interim Police Chief and Ms. Cornelius’ supervisor, Sergeant House, investigated the matter. Ms. Cornelius admitted she lied to Officer Schommer. There is no question Ms. Cornelius violated several department rules and Wisconsin law when she denied her fiancé was at her residence.

…Below is a list of the Department rules violated by Ms. Cornelius.

  • 4.3.11 Failure to provide accurate and complete information where such information is required by an authorized person;
  • 4.3.25 Failure to exercise proper judgment;
  • 4.5 Departmental Violations: Violations of departmental procedures and directivesincluding but not limited to the following different types of charges that officers are liablefor disciplinary actions;
  • 5.1 Unbecoming Conduct: Officers will conduct themselves at all times, both on and offduty, so as not to reflect disfavor on the Department. Conduct unbecoming an officer shall include that which brings the Department into disrepute or reflects discredit upon the officer as a member of the Department, or that which impairs the operation of efficiency of the Department or officer;
  • 5.18 Associations: Officers shall not have regular or continuous associations with persons whom they know, or should know, are the subject on an ongoing criminal investigation or pending criminal charges, or have been previously convicted of a crime, except as necessary in the performance of official duties, or where unavoidable because of other familial relationships of the officer;
  • 5.28 Intervention: Officers shall not interfere with cases being handled by other officers of the Department or by any other government agency unless ordered to intervene by a superior officer, or the intervening officer believes beyond a reasonable doubt that manifest injustice would result from failure to take immediate action. Officers shall not undertake any investigation or other official action not part of their regular duties without obtaining permission from their supervisor unless the urgency of the situation require immediate police action.

…At the moment Officer Schommer came to Ms. Cornelius’ door and asked her whether Mr. Bautista-Sebastian was there, Ms. Cornelius had a decision to make. She could have told the truth or lied. She chose to lie.

…In addition to the fact Ms. Cornelius lied, she was aware for nearly a month that there was a warrant for Mr. Bautista-Sebastian’s arrest. She checked the warrant status herself three (3) separate times, and yet continued not only to associate with a wanted individual, but failed in her sworn duties by not detaining Mr. Bautista-Sebastian. She failed again in her sworn duties by lying to an officer about Mr. Bautista-Sebastian being present in her house (violations 5.1 and 5.28 indicated above).

…Telling the truth is at the foundation of our system of justice. Individuals are routinely prosecuted for lying.

…When a police officer breaks the law, the response should be swift and clear: such conduct will not be tolerated. The Oneida Police Department acted reasonably when it ended Ms. Cornelius’ employment.

Given this, why is Chris Cornelius considered fit to be an Oneida Tribal Judicial Officer at all?

Isn’t this a basis on which anyone should be able to ask for and receive her recusal in any matter?

Is this the level of ‘integrity’ that Oneidas can expect from the burgeoning Oneida Tribal Judicial System?


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