By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Democratic state lawmaker circulated a resolution Wednesday calling for the ouster of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman because he presided over cases involving a law firm that had represented him without charging legal fees.
State Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, an attorney who is also running for Congress for the district covering the city of Madison, asked her colleagues to sign on to the resolution by Jan. 18. The state constitution allows for the Legislature to remove a judge from office with a two-thirds majority vote in both the Senate and Assembly.
Roys’ resolution is unlikely to succeed in the Republican-controlled Legislature. Although Supreme Court justices are officially nonpartisan, Gableman is widely viewed as one of the most conservative judges on the court and drew wide support from Republicans during his 2008 campaign.
The Assembly Republican leadership dismissed Roys’ proposal.
“This is nothing but a political stunt not worthy of comment,” said John Jagler, spokesman for Republican Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald.
Gableman’s attorney, Viet Dinh of Washington, D.C., said the resolution was nothing more than a partisan political attack that “reveals the underlying motivation and insidious nature of the attacks against Justice Gableman.”
The justice has been under fire since the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported last month that he accepted free legal services from prominent Wisconsin law firm Michael Best & Friedrich but still presided over cases in which they were representing clients.
Gableman hired the law firm to represent him for two years in an ethics case that arose out of a campaign ad he ran during his successful 2008 run for the court. The Supreme Court split 3-3 on whether Gableman violated the state’s judicial ethics code in the case.
The Michael Best firm disclosed last month that under its agreement with Gableman he was not required to pay his legal fees unless he prevailed in the ethics case and the state claims board then agreed to pay the bills.
Since the Supreme Court deadlocked on whether he did anything wrong, Gableman couldn’t seek reimbursement by the claims board and the firm was not paid.
Dinh said the arrangement was common and the legal services provided by Michael Best were not a gift because the firm had a chance of recovering the fees. He called it a “perfectly proper and ethical agreement.”
“The important point is a contingency fee agreement is not an agreement for free legal services,” Dinh said. “It is an exchange of legal services for an opportunity to recover fees.”
Roys, in a statement announcing her resolution, said Gableman violated both state law that bars public official from accepting anything of value because of their position and a judicial ethics code precluding judges from accepting gifts from those who appear before them.
“These are significant legal and ethical violations for any public official — much less for a justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court,” Roys said.
Roys said she believes the Legislature is compelled to act against Gableman in order to start rebuilding the public’s trust in Wisconsin government.
One of the cases Gableman presided over upheld passage of the law that eliminated nearly all collective bargaining rights for most public workers. The fight over that measure made Wisconsin the center of the national debate over union rights, spurred massive protests, and motivated an ongoing effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker from office.
Gableman was part of the 4-3 majority in that case. The law firm that had represented Gableman in his case also helped the state Justice Department defend the collective bargaining law in the case that went to the Supreme Court.
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne last month argued the Supreme Court should vacate its decision in that case because of the Gableman situation and hear it again without his participation.
Three complaints have been filed in recent weeks against Gableman, one with the state Judicial Commission and two with the Government Accountability Board which oversees elections in Wisconsin, asking for investigations into his deal with the Michael Best firm.
Dinh said he was confident Gableman did nothing wrong. Dinh said he could not disclose the terms of his representation of Gableman.
“It is in no way improper and in no way free,” he said.