February 26, 2009

Spare us the sanctimony

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's editorial board member David Haynes reiterates Jefferson County Circuit Judge Randy Koschnick's false dichotomy by demanding that Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson return campaign contributions from attorneys for a law firm set to argue a case before the State Supreme Court next month.

Either return the money or recuse herself, they say. Mr. Haynes then goes on to inaccurately compare the situation to that of Justices Annette Ziegler and Michael Gableman, who in January heard and will this summer rule on a case where one of their biggest political and financial supporters had actually filed an amicus brief on behalf of one of the parties. And by financial support, we're talking millions.

Neither recused, nor repudiated any benefits — those being their very own comfortable, high backed leather chairs — received from the amici, our good friends at Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.

Judge Koschnick, who makes much of his so-called "clean campaign pledge," would do well to recall that that pledge refers to "parties" in suits before the court. Instead, he's conveniently expanded the definition of parties to include their lawyers, private actors with a constitutional right to donate to whichever candidate they choose.

So much for "strict constructionism."

Sorry, people. Conservatives have been howling for years against campaign finance reform initiatives as an abridgment of free speech and so long as Wisconsin adheres to its regime of privately funded popular elections to the appellate courts, this is what you get.

As mentioned here previously, Koschnick's whole campaign is based on accusations of Shirley Abrahamson's alleged ideological tilt toward the likes of plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases.

That is, his entire politically motivated premise assumes that the Chief Justice is already predisposed toward this plaintiff. Therefore, if the plaintiff's attorneys really wanted to procure themselves a judge, they'd distribute their money elsewhere. Now he wants it both ways, just as he wants a number of other things both ways.

At a forum in Madison on Tuesday he again derided the Chief Justice's use of "psychological manuals" to decide a case and in the next breath made reference to "psychological manuals" in support of his own self. No mention of that in the Journal-Sentinel's account.

Furthermore, lawyers for Foley & Lardner, which is representing the adverse party in the suit, have contributed stacks of cash money not only to the Chief Justice but to the rest of the court. So why the selectively chosen focus on Abrahamson and Cannon & Dunphy?

F&L, it stands to reason, would be the most troubled by the contributions in question, since they have an equal and opposite stake in this particular dispute's outcome. And, as the Chief Justice suggested on Tuesday, if F&L wanted her off the case, they'd file a motion for recusal with the court. Which they haven't done.

The Journal-Sentinel, in the meantime, is content to simply reproduce Koschnick's internally contradictory political talking points bereft of even the slightest attempt at searching analysis.

How about pressing Judge Koschnick on his charges of "intellectual dishonesty," or report that he's sent out fundraising letters that misrepresent the law, instead of griping about an alleged flaw in the electoral system that virtually everyone claims to support.

I won't be holding my breath.

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