December 17, 2009

Court catching political hell, says former justice

Local blogger lobbies for paralegals to decide appellate cases

Good, comprehensive piece in the Madison Capital Times this morning. The Wisconsin Supreme Court's December 7 public conference truly is a wonder to behold, and what Steven Elbow describes as "rancor among the justices" is accurate.

Understatement, really.
"I don't want to study this so that people out there can kind of lob hand grenades over and over and over at certain members of the court," Justice Prosser said.
Well, I think we know who they might be:
Conservatives on the court are enjoying their 4-3 majority thanks in part to Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, which spent about $4 million on television ads to get Justice Annette Ziegler and Gableman elected in 2007 and 2008, respectively. The big-business lobbying group wrote one of the rules that the court adopted on a 4-3 vote.
More intriguing was Prosser's dig at Justice Crooks (by extension a dig at Chief Justice Abrahamson and Justice Bradley as well):
"It seems to me, Justice Crooks, that four members of the court can do that. You've been a member of the four people on the court who have rammed things through before, and you just don't happen to be part of the four now." He went on to tell Crooks that "it's ridiculous for you to make this argument."
Yet it's three of those "four now" (Prosser, Roggensack, and our old buddy Mike Gableman) who are responsible for the rancor and sarcasm on display at the public conference. It ain't exactly a gracious majority (Justice Ziegler doesn't say too much).

Justice Crooks's argument isn't particularly ridiculous, but it depends on how substantial are the changes to the proposed ethics rules, which is something Justice Prosser refused to elaborate on throughout the two-hour conference despite repeated requests.

It's fair to say they're well beyond being scrivener's errors.

Justice Prosser needs to win an election on April 5, 2011,* if he wants to remain a member of that gracious majority. Sources say Democrats are casting about for an appropriately 110% pro-criminal candidate to challenge him (I'll consider it; Judy Faulkner: call me).

Meanwhile, public cynicism regarding the court is off the charts:
Early last year, a poll of 600 likely Wisconsin voters commissioned by Justice at Stake, a national nonpartisan watchdog group, found that only 5 percent of respondents believe that campaign contributions have no influence on judges' decisions.
Six hundred is a small sample, but still: 95 percent think the State Supreme Court makes decisions based on who and what contributed to their political campaigns. Lovely.

Yet most folks still believe it's a great idea to elect them? That tells you that Wisconsinites are content having a court that places a higher value on cash money than legal principle. This can't be, can it?

As in, "The West Virginia of the North" (now there's a Wall Street Journal editorial you'll never see).

The poll result might reach 100 percent if people thought about why the four conservatives were so eager to adopt the language of proposals that turns out to be so internally contradictory that one of them actually had to rescind his vote in favor of adopting them.

And it wasn't even those justices who noticed: it had to be pointed out to them in a November letter from the two well-connected business consortiums that submitted the proposals in the first place.

Former justice William Bablitch, incidentally, made probably the most impassioned and impressive presentation on the deleterious effects of money-influence to the court in October.

Some may recall the statements Bablitch delivered to former Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter Steven Walters about Chief Justice Abrahamson that were enthusiastically seized upon by Jefferson County Circuit Judge Randy Koschnick during the latter's unsuccessful bid to unseat the CJ earlier this year.

Koschnick was profoundly troubled** that Abrahamson had voted to declare unconstitutional Wisconsin's Chapter 980, which enables the State to commit convicted sex offenders to continued confinement even beyond the length of their original sentences.

Bablitch criticized Abrahamson for that vote ("well out of the mainstream," whatever that means — in 1997, a similar question arising out of Kansas was decided 5-4 by the U.S. Supreme Court***) and Koschnick placed Bablitch's criticism at the top of his campaign website, but neither of them (nor Mr. Walters the reporter, for that matter) bothered to inform anybody that then-Justice Bablitch had also voted to find Chapter 980 unconstitutional.

Pretty slick. But hey, they are lawyers, after all. Perhaps the most effective solution would be to ban them from sitting on the bench.

I am a former employee of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. I worked for the Court as a law clerk for one of the justices. I USED to be proud of that fact and was never hesitant to mention it at appropriate times. Not true now. I find it appalling that the current Court is bought and paid for by lobby groups and they even have no hesitancy in acknowledging it. For years the Wisconsin Supreme Court enjoyed the highest reputation for its integrity and the quality of its decisions. Now, it is rarely cited by other jurisdictions and is generally considered to be a second rate court. The most recent Justices to be elected are not of sufficient quality to do anything other than write or vote for the legal positions supported by those organizations that paid to put them in office. The only salvation for the Wisconsin Supreme Court is for the U.S. Supreme Court to limit the corruption of the four Justices who currently enjoy a majority on the court.
— "Cynical," an aptly-monikered CapTimes commenter.

* The last two Supreme Court elections were each attended by around 20% of registered Wisconsin voters.

** He was also "troubled" that Abrahamson couldn't meet him for a candidate's debate because she was busy hearing oral arguments.

*** That Court will be entertaining arguments on federal civil commitments for sex offenders next month, but the questions presented there are much different.


Anonymous said...

It appeared the scandals exposed during the Ziegler election helped her more than hurt her.

It also appeared that J. Butler lost because he was seen as a liberal.

The money in both these races was secondary but necessary. Any person of integrity would not be compromised by it.

Grant said...

This can't be, can it?

Wanted to drive into a fire hydrant this morning, listening to fair and balanced WPR (item #5).

illusory tenant said...

Any person of integrity would not be compromised by it.

You assume at least one fact not in evidence.

Brett said...

The Wisconsin Eye videos of this hearing are fascinating. The rift between Crooks and Prosser appears wider than ever. Ziegler seems lost without her Prosser anchor. Roggensack opposes anything said by the Chief or by Bradley. And, the few times that Gableman spoke, he was borderline incoherent (noted by the Chief when she said that he forgot what was being said). The few snide comments made by Gableman (such as, "I move to allow Justice Roggensack to be heard" and "Where's the signing?") gives more insight into how ridiculous he really is.

illusory tenant said...

My impressions exactly. And I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who picked up on that "Where's the signing."