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View from around the state: Justice’s decisions leave bad perception

From The Post-Crescent (Appleton):

Just when you thought it was safe, more disappointing news came out this month about our state Supreme Court.

This time, it was about Justice Michael Gableman’s use of a law firm’s services and his decision not to recuse himself from cases involving the firm.

It doesn’t look good. It leaves us with a bad perception of Gableman’s judgment.

The news came out when the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and a lawmaker asked the Government Accountability Board to look into whether Gableman violated campaign finance laws.

The group says the justice received free legal services from the firm Michael Best & Friedrich during an ethics case related to his 2008 campaign.

The firm sent a letter to the Supreme Court saying Gableman didn’t pay for the firm’s representation, but he did pay for its out-of-pocket expenses.

The problem is that state law bans public officials from receiving anything of value because of their position. Gableman’s arrangement with the firm makes it look like he got something for nothing.

And it gets worse.

Gableman later cast the deciding votes in some cases involving the law firm’s clients. One was the law that eliminated collective bargaining powers for many state workers.

It’s clear that Gableman should have recused himself from cases where Michael Best & Friedrich was involved.

The way the law is written, it is up to individual justices to make their own ethical decisions regarding recusals. We’re not sure what Gableman’s justification is for staying involved in these cases, but we do know it looks really bad.

How can people who have cases pending before the state Supreme Court know they’ll get a fair shake when one justice looks like he’s indebted to a law firm?

We’ve said before that Wisconsinites are having a tough time trusting their state’s top judicial institution, and Gableman’s actions erode that trust even further.

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