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Ex-Judicial Commission member files grievance against Niess

By: Eric Heisig//October 23, 2014//

Ex-Judicial Commission member files grievance against Niess

By: Eric Heisig//October 23, 2014//

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A former Wisconsin Judicial Commission member has filed a complaint against a Dane County judge for recusing himself from a voter ID case after the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the law.

Bob Papke, a Sturgeon Bay resident and former Door County supervisor, filed the complaint with the Judicial Commission Oct. 4 against Circuit Judge Richard Niess, who put the state law on hold following its passage.

Papke, who has donated money to Republican campaigns, said he was spurred to file it after reading a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article from September that said Niess, after the state Supreme Court upheld the law, refused to dismiss the original lawsuit and recused himself from the case.

Instead, Niess issued an order that stated “doing so would violate my oath to ‘support … the constitution of the State of Wisconsin,’” according to the article.

The case was transferred to Judge Ellen Berz, who dismissed it on Sept. 26.

Papke said he was going to keep the Judicial Commission a secret, but decided to publicize it. He said he is concerned because Niess is presiding over a case state Democrats filed to compel the release of prosecutor training videos with Republican Attorney General candidate and Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel. A hearing for the case was held Wednesday, and Niess said he would review the video and hold another hearing Oct. 30.

“The judge is apparently in another hearing with possible statewide implications,” Papke said. “An alleged refusal to follow Supreme Court orders indicates another problem [and] possible bias.”

Niess, in an email attributed to him, stated that “my recusal complied fully with the applicable Wisconsin statute and Supreme Court rule, and I am confident the complaint will be dismissed on that basis.”

The Judicial Commission’s next meeting is 9 a.m. Friday.

Papke served on the Judicial Commission as a citizen member from 1993 to 2001. He was also a Sturgeon Bay police officer.

He said his decision to file a complaint is “not about the election,” which will take place Nov. 4 and features two close races.

Reached Thursday, Judicial Commission Executive Director Jeremiah Van Hecke said state confidentiality laws prevent him from discussing complaints against judges.

The state’s voter ID law is currently on hold, per a U.S. Supreme Court decision, and will not be enforced during November’s elections.


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