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29 judges sign Walker recall petition

Workers go through petitions seeking the recall from office of Gov. Scott Walker and other state politicians at the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board's Recall Petition Center in Madison in February. Twenty-nine Wisconsin judges from 16 counties were among the tens of thousands of people who signed petitions to recall Walker. (AP File Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, M.P. King)

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (AP) — More than two dozen Wisconsin judges from 16 counties were among the tens of thousands of people who signed petitions to recall Gov. Scott Walker, according to a newspaper analysis.

The review by Gannett Wisconsin Media found that 29 judges, or about 12 percent of the state’s approximately 250 county-level judges, signed the petition, the Sheboygan Press reported Sunday.

Milwaukee County had the most judges sign the petition at 11, or about one-fourth of judges in the county.

The data also shows that none of the state’s 16 appeals court judges or seven Supreme Court justices signed the petition.

The judges interviewed by the newspaper said their decisions to sign were constitutionally protected, and they were not banned by the Wisconsin Code of Judicial Conduct.

Still, at least one judge has been under scrutiny. Dane County Judge David Flanagan has been under fire for not disclosing his support of the recall before he issued a temporary restraining order against a Walker-backed voter ID law. The Wisconsin Republican Party has filed a complaint with the state Judicial Commission, arguing that Flanagan should have revealed that he signed the petition.

Janine Geske, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice and current law professor at Marquette University, said she was surprised so many judges signed. She said it’s critical that judges do everything they can to show they are free of political influence.

“I believe the judges had the right to sign the petition, but it creates a problem with the appearance of impartiality if and when they may be called upon to decide any issues involving the governor or the Republican party,” Geske said.

According to the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct, judges cannot participate in activities of a political party or candidate and should avoid “the appearance of impropriety.”

The code does not specifically mention recall petitions, said Jim Alexander, executive director of the Wisconsin Judicial Commission. Alexander said he did not sign the petition because “it’s not something proper for my position.”

Monroe County Judge J. David Rice said he called Alexander for advice and was told that signing the petition would be OK.

“He said in his opinion that didn’t violate the judicial ethics, so I relied on that in signing,” Rice said. “If he’d have said, ‘No,’ I wouldn’t have done it.”

Some judges who signed the petition said they were supporting the right to vote.

“I concluded that by signing a recall petition, I wasn’t advocating for a particular party, I was advocating for the recall process, which I thought was completely separate and apart,” said Brown County Judge Mark Warpinski.

“What I did by signing the recall petition is say that the people of Wisconsin should be allowed to vote again for governor,” said Milwaukee County Judge Charles F. Kahn Jr. “I did not support any candidate and I did not support any political party. This is a substantial and important distinction.”

Kahn said it was “good to know” that dozens of other judges also signed.

Some judges who didn’t sign the recall petition had a different take on the issue.

“When you sign up for this job, to some extent you compromise your ability to express your own political beliefs one way or the other,” said Brown County Judge Marc Hammer. “I think if you’re asked to judge the conduct of others, you need to be mindful of what your conduct is.”

Adam Skaggs, senior counsel for Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, said he doesn’t believe signing a recall petition would result in sanctions, but he said it is a gray area that should be avoided.

Professor Richard Painter of the University of Minnesota Law School questioned why judges would expose themselves to the potential perception of bias. He said judges often have to decide cases where the governor or lawmakers are parties, and they sometimes have to rule on close elections.

“For judges to be getting involved in the question of whether the governor ought to be recalled I think is highly inappropriate,” Painter said.

Information from: The Sheboygan Press, http://www.sheboygan-press.com


  1. All 29 judges put their bias on the table, yet at least one decided a case with bias against Walker. Democrat politicians, including judges, are corrupt people who see it as their “right” to misuse government like an organized crime syndicate to take, redistribute and skim other people’s actual rights, including their private property rights, to fellow Democrats. Elected Republicans reversed only a very small part of decades of self-dealing between Democrat politicians who “negotiated” (on the same side of the table) income and benefits for Democrat union labor that turns around and gives millions (taken from taxpayers) each year to Democrat politicians. Democrats, including judges, are attacking Republicans for reducing Democrat theft from taxpayers.

  2. Wait a minute, it was not just judges who are biased here, what about those attorneys who act as guardian ad lidems that specifically advertised, promoted and signed the recall. I know my guardian ad lidem took an ad out in our local newspaper asking people to come to his office to sign the recall. Shouldn’t a guardian ad lidem be neutral, I mean we are bringing politics into this mess not good for children or parents if there is an inherent bias one way or another, right?

  3. Settle down guys and get back on your meds. Neither the judges who signed the recall petitions nor the many who took an equally political stance by refusing to do so when given the opportunity have done anything even remotely unethical. It’s not like any of them got something free from one side and then insisted on sitting on the case anyway.

    Let’s get down to legal basics. First, the judges have the same First Amendment rights that the rest of us have. The U.S. Sup. Ct. decided that in White and judges (including, especially, right-wing judges) have been using that holding regularly to successfully attack the very provisions potentially at issue here.

    Second, signing a recall petition is not alone an indication of bias. What does signing a recall petition (whether regarding the Governor or a Democratic or Republican state senator) say about whether a judge is predisposed to rule one way or another on any possible legal issue other, perhaps, than one regarding the legality of the recall itself? Unlike circumstances in which, for instance, a judge runs for office on an agenda of supporting one party to litigation over another, the fact that a judge holds certain policy views does not suggest bias. Again, the Republican Party of Minnesota’s victory in the White decision establishes that point.

    Third, if the judges who exercised their constitutional rights to sign the recall did something unethical, then so did the many judges who made an equally political statement by refusing to sign the recall petitions because they support Gov. Walker. Yet, I do not see anyone proposing that they should be investigated.

    This demand for an investigation is a frivolous and purely artificial act of political grandstanding by those with a particular political bent who want to mislead Wisconsin voters and distract them from the real issue of whether the Governor and the Republicans should be allowed to continue doing what they have been doing.

  4. Scott Walker’s many and drastic changes to a multitude of our laws, including ones that have been the subject of debate for many years, under the guise of “jobs creation” ought to give all lawyers pause. For example, did we really need to adopt the Daubert standard? Drastic changes in the law benefit only a small handful of people at the expense of the majority of citizens of Wisconsin. It seems fair that judges would be disturbed by all these changes. Most were not debated, they were simply rammed through the legislature. Signing a petition shows no bias as to the law. It shows that judges are disturbed with the unprecedented and wholesale gutting of laws that were of benefit to the people.

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