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View from around the state: Justices wrong to close court meetings

From The Post-Crescent, Appleton

Over the past few years, the state Supreme Court’s reputation has been tarnished.

The justices’ solution? Close off more meetings from public view.

That’s the wrong approach. By closing administrative conferences, the justices are making the court look even more secretive at a time when Wisconsinites want a better look at how the justices handle their business.

The state Supreme Court was thought to be the first to hold its meetings about administrative issues in public. That change happened in 1999, and it was an innovative way to shine light on one of the state’s most important institutions.

Last month, the court’s conservative justices voted 4-3 to end that practice. It’s disappointing.

The justifications for closing the meetings again are poor. Justice Michael Gableman said “no court in this country has seen it wise to emulate our practice.”

We want our state’s elected officials — and that includes Supreme Court justices — to conduct their business in the sunlight. We want Wisconsin’s justice and legislative systems to be an example for the rest of the country.

It’s OK for Wisconsin to be different from the rest of the country if it’s the right thing to do.

Justice Annette Ziegler voted to close the meetings because she says the court’s public exchanges have been an embarrassment. She must be forgetting the most embarrassing situation of all, which involved accusations of an altercation between Justices David Prosser and Ann Walsh Bradley. Their exchange happened in Bradley’s private office.

Judging from that and other reports about how the justices treat each other, things aren’t going to get better over time behind closed doors.

The justices are responsible for the dysfunction on the court. They should be the ones working to restore the public’s trust by keeping their meetings in the public view.

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