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Judicial recusal proposal bumped off agenda

The Wisconsin Supreme Court won’t be discussing Thursday whether to take up a proposal to modify the state’s judicial recusal rules.

Among other things, the proposal, which was signed by 54 retired judges, would call for judges to step aside in a particular case when they have received more than a certain amount of campaign donations from a party.

The proposal had been on the justice’s agenda for Thursday’s open conference but was taken off Tuesday evening.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty had faxed a letter to the court on March 10 stating its opposition to the proposal and asking to be notified if the justices chose to take it up at Thursday’s meeting. WILL is a conservative-leaning organization whose stated mission is to defend property, First Amendment and religious rights.

On Tuesday morning, WILL sent an email to the high court asking that the justices remove the proposal from Thursday’s calendar and give the organization time to file an explanation of its opposition to the court.

“We believe based upon our legal and empirical work that the petition is without merit,” according to the email. “We intend to show the Court that, given the court’s action on this same issue in 2010 and the constitutional issues involved, the petition should be dismissed without a further and wasteful investment of judicial and public resources.”

Both the Brennan Center for Justice and the Campaign Legal Center submitted letters Wednesday urging the court to consider and adopt the proposal.

The Wisconsin Justice Initiative also submitted a letter, received by the court Wednesday, in support of the proposal.

Before March, the court had not received any comments except for an opposition letter from Curtis La Sage, a Germantown resident. The court received it on Jan. 23.

The proposal would modify the recusal rules adopted by the justices in 2010. Those rules were shaped by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Wisconsin Realtors Association, which submitted a petition in 2008 calling for the justices to change the judicial code so that receiving a campaign contribution did not automatically require judges to recuse themselves from cases. The justices adopted that petition on a 4-3 vote.

According to the emails WILL exchanged with the high court’s staff Tuesday morning, Chief Justice Pat Roggensack had intended to remove the proposal from the agenda before WILL had submitted its email.

Tom Sheehan, court information officer, said Wednesday that the proposal has been moved to the court’s April 20 open rules agenda.

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