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Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013

Justice for Sale

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Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Patience Roggensack carries a rare distinction on the right-wing majority that controls our state’s highest court. She is the only one of the four Republican-allied justices who has not been charged with judicial misconduct.

That ranks right up there with “Never Been Indicted” as one of the worst possible campaign slogans.

But Roggensack has no qualms about campaigning on behalf of the court’s unprincipled majority. She declared while launching her re-election campaign: “We are doing just fine…. We are working very well together, so don't give up on us.”

“Working well together” is not how any halfway sober observer would describe a court where a male justice tries to strangle a female justice in an argument, where a white justice runs racist, untrue commercials to defeat an African-American justice, or where the majority justices rewrite court rules so that they don’t have to disqualify themselves from deciding cases involving their own campaign contributors.

Ed Fallone, a Marquette University law professor challenging Roggensack, politely describes the court as “completely dysfunctional…. Her comments would indicate there are little chances for improvement if she’s re-elected.”

Another candidate, Vince Megna, is a private attorney who regularly takes on the automobile industry with “lemon law” cases. He knows a total wreck when he sees one.

Megna calls the choking incident between Justice David Prosser and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley simply the most brazen example of a court that has become a major embarrassment to Wisconsin.

Nearly a year ago, the Wisconsin Judicial Commission charged Prosser with unprofessional conduct for his physical altercation with Bradley and another incident in which Prosser screamed at Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, calling her “a total bitch” and threatening to destroy her.
   Nothing has happened since. That’s because, as someone just said, the Wisconsin Supreme Court is completely dysfunctional.

In Wisconsin, the only body that can discipline a Supreme Court justice is, get this, the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

To stop the disciplinary action for his misconduct, Prosser simply got his three Republican-allied colleagues to recuse themselves so there wouldn’t be a quorum to hear his case.

Roggensack happily joined the other two Republicans, Michael Gableman and Annette Ziegler, both of whom have been charged with judicial misconduct for unrelated matters.

 

Deciding Donors’ Cases Is OK, Roggensack Says

Funny, Roggensack eagerly recused herself to prevent an obnoxious political ally from being disciplined for ugly, unprofessional conduct.

Compare that with the refusal of Roggensack and the other Republicans to recuse themselves from cases where any ethical person would agree they should recuse themselves. These refusals occurred in cases brought before the court involving parties who have contributed large sums or even bought commercials to get that justice elected.

No honest person, Republican or Democrat, could possibly fail to see the ethical conflict of interest. Allowing justices to sit on cases involving someone who has financed their election, in effect, legalizes buying the court.

Roggensack and her Republican colleagues openly encouraged such bribery, rewriting court rules to declare that justices could not be removed from a case involving someone who had contributed money to them. It’s up to the individual justices to decide whether they should recuse themselves.

We already know how few ethics the majority justices have. We learned that more than a year ago Justice Gableman received free legal services from the law firm of Michael Best & Friedrich for two years to fight charges of ethical misconduct.

The dollar value of such representation easily could run into six figures. But that hasn’t stopped Gableman from continuing to sit in judgment of clients represented by his generous law firm and, more often than not, ruling in their favor.

You’d never guess how Roggensack justifies putting the Supreme Court up for sale. She claims she was protecting the right to vote.

In a tortured opinion piece in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after she and her colleagues changed the rules, Roggensack’s twisted logic went like this: 

If she recused herself from a case because it involved someone who gave her lots of money, she would be disenfranchising all of the other people who voted for her without giving her any money. They voted for her because they wanted her to decide cases. She just couldn’t let her voters down.

Roggensack was so desperate to cover up the brazen corruption Republicans have brought to the court she was even ready to pretend the court majority cares about protecting the right to vote.

If that were true, the court should unanimously uphold lower court decisions striking down as unconstitutional the Republican Legislature’s attempt to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of black, brown, elderly or student voters through a voter ID law.

Since we can’t trust Republicans to do that, defeating Roggensack is the first step toward cleaning up the court.