February 2, 2008

Gableman: Over the rainbow and out to lunch

Last Tuesday during his debate with Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler, Burnett County Judge Michael Gableman let fly this startling little shot across the bow:
[Butler] has a substantial and consistent history of legislating from the bench and we don't have too look far or long to find a series of cases that reflect that. I think what he said here today sounded very good, but in addition to all these longstanding case precedents he cited, I remember reading one case where he cited The Wizard of Oz and based decisions on social science studies that were manufactured at colleges and universities.
Gableman was apparently referring to a 2005 decision of the Wisconsin Supreme Court called State v. Dubose (.pdf; 63 pgs.).

Gableman's remark is instructive for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it raises the question whether he even knows what he's talking about. As for 'citation,' it's a term of art, and it means something specific to lawyers. Aspirants to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, in my opinion, shouldn't play fast and loose with legal terms of art for the sake of mugging in front of the crowd.

It's not only misleading, it's dishonest, because one would expect Judge Gableman to fully understand what is meant by them.

First of all, Dubose was authored by Justice Patrick Crooks, not Butler. Second, Dubose embodies a very complicated due process analysis that involves revisiting a number of Wisconsin and U.S. Supreme Court cases in light of a considerable amount of more recently obtained empirical data having to do with the reliability of eyewitness evidence, and in particular evidence gathered through a certain type of police identification procedure. To put it mildly, Dubose does not lend itself to one-liner soundbites, especially the utterly nonsensical one offered by Gableman.

And one has to be especially careful reading Dubose because it contains three separate dissents, by Justices Wilcox, Prosser, and Roggensack. Each takes issue with the majority opinion for different reasons. It requires some serious work just to tease out the competing strands of analysis in Dubose, let alone portray it accurately for the layperson. To reduce it to, "He cited The Wizard of Oz" is, on a charitable reading, an act of negligence and, to my mind at least, raises a concern as to Gableman's suitability for the position he seeks.

While Butler joins Crooks's DuBose opinion in full, he writes separately only to shed light on a failure he detects in Justice Roggensack's dissent. To wit, Roggensack relies, at one point, on the very data she had derided as "disputed social science theory" only a few paragraphs previous. That's about the entire thrust of Butler's very brief concurring opinion. His apparent sin, to return to Gableman's dishonest characterization, was to criticize Roggensack's skepticism over the empirical data by saying this:
Unless, and until, we improve eyewitness identification procedures so that the likelihood of irreparable misidentification is significantly reduced, we can no longer proceed as though all is good in the Land of Oz.
That's it. A figure of speech, hardly the "citation" that Gableman would attempt to have us believe.

Incidentally, our good friend Daniel Suhr is also completely wrong (surprise) when he claims that Butler wrote to "especially defend" the majority's use of the empirical data. He was not "especially defending" the majority, he was "especially criticizing" one of the dissents for a glaring error of reasoning. It is notable, however, that Suhr also makes an issue of Butler's offhand reference to the "Land of Oz." It's almost as if Gableman was presented with Suhr's "Research Briefing" in preparation for his debate with Butler. D'ya think?

Suhr, by the way, can be more easily excused for his ineptitude than can Gableman, since Suhr hasn't sworn his lawyer's oath yet. (If there's a god in heaven, my humble prayer to her or him is that Daniel Suhr pulls Justice Butler for his swearing-in ceremony.)

Gableman's portrayal of empirical data as "manufactured" at colleges and universities is also quite telling, and he is kidding himself — and the Wisconsin electorate — if he thinks he'll just be able to laugh off relevant empirical studies prepared by the U.S. Department of Justice if and when he finds himself on the Supreme Court.

It's often said that there's a crock of gold at the end of the rainbow, but it appears that Judge Gableman is entertaining us to a crock of something else, something more fragrant than gold.

[Please visit the iT Butler/Gableman archive.]

1 comment:

John Foust said...

It is heartwarming to think of all the lessons ahead for larval lawyers like Suhr.

Oh, the clients he'll meet! Lions and tigers and judges, oh my!