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Gableman attorney steps down from judicial panel (UPDATE)

Justice Michael Gableman

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A lawyer who provided free legal services to state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman has resigned from Gov. Scott Walker’s judicial selection commission.

Attorney Eric McLeod informed Walker’s chief counsel of his resignation in a Dec. 22 letter, according to a report published Friday by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Dec. 22 was the same day that Walker told the newspaper he was considering removing McLeod from the committee. Shortly after the Journal Sentinel blogged about Walker’s comments, the governor’s office received McLeod’s resignation letter.

“I am writing to inform you of my decision to resign from Governor Walker’s Judicial Selection Advisory Committee,” the letter said. “It has been both a pleasure and a privilege to serve the governor in this capacity.”

Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie declined to say whether McLeod was asked to resign, saying, “We’ll let the letter speak for itself.”

Walker is still reviewing whether he’ll allow McLeod to continue participating as special counsel in a high-profile case, helping the state defend itself against legal challenges to a law that eliminated collective-bargaining rights for most public workers. Werwie said that review is expected to take several weeks.

McLeod’s law firm, Michael Best & Friedrich, recently disclosed that Gableman didn’t pay for legal work that McLeod performed between 2008 and 2010 as Gableman fought an ethics charge.

Gableman and the law firm had an arrangement under which the firm would get paid only if Gableman prevailed in the ethics case and was able to persuade the state to pay his attorney fees.

Other attorneys have called the deal highly unusual.

The Supreme Court split 3-3 when it ruled on the ethics charge last year. In other words, Gableman was not found to have violated the judicial ethics code, but since he didn’t win outright he wasn’t able to ask the state for legal fees.

The state judicial ethics code bars judges from accepting gifts from those who are likely to appear before them. A separate ethics code prevents any state official from receiving anything of value for free because of their position.

A government watchdog group, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, has asked two ethics agencies to investigate whether Gableman violated ethics codes.

Gableman’s attorney, Viet Dinh, told the Journal Sentinel in a letter that the legal service was not a gift under state law.

Dinh wrote that the judicial ethics code defines a gift as something that’s received “without valuable consideration.” Gableman’s deal with the law firm did include “valuable consideration” but the contract gave the firm a possibility of recovering legal fees, the letter said.

Gableman and the firm have declined to state the value of the work. Others have estimated the value at tens of thousands of dollars.

Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com

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