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Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012

Issue of the Week: Is Michael Gableman Unfit for the State's Highest Court?

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While Wisconsinites are rightly focused on the recalls of Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and a handful of Republican state senators, the reasons for recalling state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman grow by the day.

Gableman took office in 2008 already tainted by controversy. The former judge had approved and paid for a racially charged—and false—ad smearing his opponent, then-Justice Louis Butler.

His fellow justices on the court deadlocked on whether to punish him for that repugnant ad.

Gableman was defended by the Republican-allied law firm Michael Best & Friedrich in an unusual contingency-fee agreement: Gableman wouldn't have to pay his attorney's fees unless he won his case and was able to persuade the state to cover the fees. The chances of that happening were slim to none, and Gableman benefited from tens of thousands of dollars in legal services from one of the most prominent law firms in the state.

That's pretty bad. Even worse, though, is that Gableman didn't reveal this deal and has heard cases argued by Michael Best—a blatant conflict of interest.

Shockingly, some of those cases include some of the most politically charged cases in recent memory—the open meetings case, which could have invalidated Walker's collective bargaining bill, and Milwaukee's paid sick leave ordinance. Gableman voted in Michael Best's interests in both of those cases without revealing that he had this unusual financial arrangement with the firm.

Unless Gableman has a sudden attack of conscience and recuses himself from cases involving his benefactors, he could rule on two more politically charged cases—on redistricting and the recalls—that have Michael Best's fingerprints all over them.

In another brazen move, Gableman will be appearing at a Republican Party dinner and fund-raiser in February, alongside Congressman Paul Ryan and Republican Party of Wisconsin Vice Chair Brian Schimming. State Supreme Court justices are to be nonpartisan and nonpolitical.

So while Wisconsinites are caught up in "Recall Walker" fever, they may want to note that Gableman, a statewide elected official, is also eligible for recall. In a troubling pattern of ethical lapses, Gableman has proven that he's unfit to serve on the state's highest court.

Heroes of the Week
: Agape Community Center Volunteers

Believing that "strong families and strong neighborhoods go hand-in-hand," the nonprofit Agape Community Center (6100 N. 42nd St.) has been serving Milwaukee's Northwest Side since 1986. Volunteers are an integral part of the center's many outreach efforts. The Summer Youth Program offers organized activities for children ages 4-12 and Senior Programs help older adults remain socially, physically and emotionally self-sufficient.

Volunteer tutors are needed for the center's After School, Teen and Safe Place programs, which offer positive recreational outlets and educational assistance. Agape is also in need of individuals willing to help with its three-times-a-week community meals and to donate a few hours of their time preparing and loading "stock boxes" of nonperishable items, which are distributed on the first Thursday of every month.

Readers interested in lending a hand or learning more about the services offered at Agape Community Center are urged to call 414-464-4440 or visit www.agape-center.org.