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Bar leadership trying to rally support for term-limit proposal

It seems State Bar leadership is finally figuring out they have a long road ahead to get the Legislature and voters to go along with a proposed Constitutional amendment to limit state Supreme Court justices to a single, 16-year term.

It’s a push that’s going to require the support of the full bar, bar lobbyist Cale Battles and John Orton, a BOG member and the judicial election steering committee chairman, told the Board of Governors during its meeting in La Crosse on Saturday.

“I don’t think we’ve ever undertook a grassroots campaign like we have to get this passed,” Battles said during the meeting.

As such, they said, it is imperative every lawyer in the state support the proposal. If every member supports it, that mindset will trickle into the general public, and then the Legislature, both said.

“Every legislator has his or her own lawyer,” Orton said, “and it’s very important that we have the support of our membership.”

The proposal is aimed at taking politics and special interests out of judicial elections. The BOG overwhelmingly voted to support the move during its meeting in September, with only the president, president-elect and past president voting against it.

To get put into the state Constitution, the bill would have to pass through two legislative sessions and a vote by the public. Orton said the committee hopes to get a legislator to introduce the bill early in the next session, which begins in January.

Saturday’s rallying cry was not the first time bar leadership has publicly said the legislative push will be a challenge. But every time I’ve talked to those who worked on the proposal, including its main advocate Joe Troy, the proposal was not framed as something that would be a tough sell.

This weekend’s meeting, though, had a different tone. Battles flat-out told the BOG that the bar’s efforts are ramping up now. If more isn’t done, he said, the proposal won’t succeed.

“If we don’t do a good enough job educating our members, the public’s not going to vote for it either,” Battles said.

Those efforts will have to extend far beyond attorneys who are indifferent to the proposal. Some have said they feel the proposal doesn’t go far enough, and that money will flow in even faster as special-interest groups realize they have fewer chances to influence a Supreme Court election.

And some legislators flat-out think it’s a bad idea.

Orton recognized this on Saturday, but added that “what we’re seeking to do isn’t impossible by any means.”

He encouraged governors to email lawyers in their district and encourage them to weigh in on the proposal.

“We want to be responsive,” Orton said. “We want to talk to people and to get them thinking the way the Board of Governors thinks on this issue.”

About Eric Heisig, eric.heisig@wislawjournal.com

Eric Heisig is the Milwaukee courts and legal reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal. He can be reached at eric.heisig@wislawjournal.com or 414-225-1826.

One comment

  1. mac.davis@wicourts.gov

    Perhaps the BOG should rethink the value of how it expends political capital. First, a unanimous, and wise, State Supreme Court vote against the BOG petition to allow removal of Directors. Now, a state constitutional amendment proposal that almost no one cares about and has no known enthusiastic support in the Legislature
    What are the rules for recalling BOG directors? :-)

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