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How we judge the judges?

By: dmc-admin//June 9, 2008//

How we judge the judges?

By: dmc-admin//June 9, 2008//

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The May 28th decision of the Wisconsin Supreme Court in Matter of Judicial Disciplinary Proceedings Against Hon. Annette Ziegler, 2008 WI 47, sets the stage for what will next occur regarding Judge Michael Gableman, newly elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and the numerous complaints that have been filed against him arising out of the down and dirty campaign tactics leading to the April 1st defeat of Justice Louis Butler.

Jack Zemlicka’s article and Tony Anderson’s blog discuss the decision and the factors considered by the Court.

The kind of hardball campaign that Wisconsin voters were subjected to, with misleading and scurrilous ads, along with the involvement of big money third party interests which invest heavily in judicial elections to remake courts with justices sympathetic to their economic interests, has drawn national attention and criticism. See, “Rendering Justice, With One Eye on Re-election”, New York Times, p. 1 (May 25, 2008)

Following the April 1 election, press, pundits and some legislators in our state called for changing Wisconsin’s method of selecting judges from election and appointment to purely appointment by a merit selection committee. Whether that occurs will be the subject of continuing debate, but the unprecedented judicial discipline of Justice Ziegler will soon be followed by another investigation and disciplinary proceedings of soon-to-be Justice Gableman. Will that result in a second case of judicial discipline of a sitting Supreme Court justice?

How will the Judicial Commission and ultimately our Supreme Court judge one of its own, not for the willful but inadvertent violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which were found to exist and resulted in the public reprimand of Justice Ziegler, but for knowing and intentional violations of the Code during the election campaign process? Did the campaign tactics, statements and misleading Willie Horton-style ads rise to the level of “brazen contempt for the authority of the Code”? Ziegler, par. 77; And if so, what should be done?

I personally do not see the need to end judicial elections in this state, but I do believe that a thorough investigation needs to be made, consistent with the spirit and requirements of the Code of Judicial Conduct and the First Amendment. The separation of powers and continued judicial independence is at stake. Wisconsin needs a strong and independent judiciary, not bought and sold by the highest bidder or third party, and not beholden to any interest group, be that commercial, citizen advocacy, management, labor or law enforcement. Our system also needs lawyers who are advocates for their clients, in both civil and criminal cases, and electoral tactics that castigate a person for effectively representing his or her client should have consequences. Our system of justice and how we elect, investigate and discipline judges requires better.

What was done in the most recent Supreme Court campaign has adversely affected “public confidence in the integrity of the judicial system.” Ziegler, par. 41.
I hope it is effectively addressed.


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