February 28, 2008

Butler and Prosser, judicial traditionalists

A few items related to the ongoing election campaign between incumbent Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler and his challenger, Burnett County Judge and sometime Republican gubernatorial contributor Michael Gableman.

First off, a very thoughtful and well written piece in the Badger Herald by Suchita Shah, a UW student of neurobiology (and the courts, it would appear), is worth checking out here.

Next we have the campaign watchdog committee, the WJCIC, issuing a couple of warnings, one to Gableman, and the other to some anti-Gablemans (nothing for Butler, however).

The WJCIC goes after a third-party outfit called the Greater Wisconsin Committee for a 30-second spot it produced called "Meet Mike Gableman." There's a QuickTime version at this link (it's actually pretty funny, and Wisconsinites sure do love their bobblehead dolls).

The spot presents a number of documented facts, and suggests there may have been some partisan political shenanigans leading to Gableman's Burnett County judgeship. Cory Liebmann has some more documentation on "Gableman's Suspicious Appointment" here and here.

But the WJCIC says the ad "implies, without explicitly stating, that Judge Gableman somehow committed an ethical lapse in the events leading to his appointment by [Republican] Governor Scott McCallum as a circuit court judge in Burnett County," and calls for the GWC to "immediately remove this ad from the airwaves."

That ain't going to happen.

The other WJCIC tongue-lashing concerns the Gableman campaign's characterization of State v. Brown, which is discussed below. (I don't know why the WJCIC is focused on the Margaret Farrow letter; the identical claims appear in Gableman's own official literature).

Butler the traditionalist

A more general concern voiced by the WJCIC is primarily of interest to law nerds, although it's probably the most salient point in the press release. According to Gableman, Justice Butler cast "the deciding vote" in State v. Brown, the implication being that if not for Butler, Richard A. Brown's petition for supervised release would have been ultimately denied.

But that isn't the way it works. It isn't as if six judges are deadlocked 3-3 on a question and Justice Butler happens to walk by and one of the six yells, "Hey Louis, what do you think? We need a tie breaker."

More importantly, as the WJCIC suggests, according to the deciding vote theory, Justice David Prosser is equally responsible for allowing Brown's petition to move forward and Prosser is, according to Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, not only the most "traditionalist" member of the court, he's also its least "activist."

So it's practically a self-defeating claim for the Gableman campaign to criticize Butler's vote in Brown when Prosser voted exactly the same way. Not only that but Justice Patrick Crooks, who WMC places on the "activist" side of the ledger, dissented in Brown. But obviously the Gableman campaign doesn't want you to know that, otherwise they wouldn't be able to shout, "zOMG sex offender on the loose!!!1"

Besides, if Prosser the traditionalist hero voted to reverse the court of appeals, doesn't that mean Butler got this one right? It also means that Michael "Stark Contrast" Gableman would eschew the traditionalist position in favor of the activist. And that can't be good.

No wonder he refused to engage further questioning on Monday.

One thing's for sure, Butler's recently hired communications director, Erin Celello, is no shrinking violet, and the AP's Scott Bauer reports that Celello sets up the Brown trilemma as follows:
Celello said Gableman's comments show that he either hasn't read the court's decision, doesn't understand it "or is purposely lying about it as a desperate attempt to get any traction in this race."
Lastly, a stellar example of responsible journalism from the Inter-County Leader, which published an unsigned piece describing the GWC effort as "smear television ads launched by a shadowy special interest group" and quoting Gableman lieutenant Darrin Schmitz as saying, "It looks like Louis Butler sent his liberal, special interest friends to do his dirty work for him."

The item goes on to again state that the GWC is "a shadowy group, which launches smear campaigns that mislead voters and do not pass the truth test." At the very end we find the source of the article: "submitted." Submitted by Darrin Schmitz, I think is a pretty safe bet to place. It's also likely a shoe-in for the Columbia Journalism Review's "Darts & Laurels" section, in that it's practically a bullseye.

It is, however, a clever "pot v. kettle" game Schmitz is playing.

[Please visit the iT Butler/Gableman archive.]

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