September 12, 2011

Wisconsin Supreme Court on civility and public trust

This Thursday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court will convene in public for a conference devoted to, among other things, Civility and Public Trust and Confidence. The court has been in the news lately because some of its members don't get along too well. Some observers have wondered why.

Here's a clue. This is Mike Gableman, who lied during his political campaign in 2008, and who still has a civil complaint alleging ethics violations pending against him, speaking to a rubber chicken event in Racine County last March. Much of Gableman's harangue is devoted to praising controversial Justice David Prosser, who Gableman claims is "slow to anger" and only gets mad "when there is some unjustness."

Around 7:20, Gableman gets to insulting his fellow justices:
A judge or a justice should not misuse their position, their office, their temporary office of the court, to supplant or replace the law with their personal, political, or social views. I saw that happening in Madison four years ago when I decided way up in Burnett County that it wasn't me who was failing to understand what Shirley Abrahamson, Ann Walsh Bradley, Pat Crooks and Loophole Louie [sic — it's Louis, rhymes with Lewis; as you can see and hear, Gableman is unrepentant of his judicial ethics violations] Butler were doing to the law [laughter]. It was they who were failing in their sacred vow to follow the law as written and not substitute their own political, social, and personal views for what they think the law ought to be. Thank you [applause].
Notice how Gableman says "Thank you" before the applause starts.

This is not Gableman the political campaigner, this is Gableman the justice of the Supreme Court — where he claims to preside "by the grace of God" — although the roles are indistinguishable in Gableman's case.

So there there you have Gableman accusing his colleagues of "failing" in their professional obligations, and yet some people are still wondering why there is personal tension among certain factions within the court.

And ironic accusations they are, considering Gableman's own behavior.

Gableman returns to praising Prosser, who defended Gableman's ethical violations and indeed told the people of Wisconsin to "get over it" during a debate with JoAnne Kloppenburg, who challenged Prosser for his seat on the court and came within half a percentage point of winning it:
Former [Wisconsin] governors Tommy Thompson and Patrick Lucey, two who you probably cannot find with more divergent political views, are the co-chairmen of his campaign.
Which is funny because just a couple of days later:
Lucey "resigned as honorary co-chair of Justice David Prosser's re-election campaign and endorsed his opponent, State Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg. Lucey said in a statement that he has followed Prosser's campaign "with increasing dismay and now alarm," adding that "Prosser has lost that most crucial of characteristics for a Supreme Court Justice — as for any judge — even-handed impartiality." Lucey also cited Prosser's "disturbing distemper and lack of civility that does not bode well for the High Court in the face of demands that are sure to be placed on it in these times of great political and legal volatility."
That's right, Prosser's own campaign chairman abandoned ship.*

More recently Gableman came up with a tale that Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, whose neck Prosser admitted putting his hands around during a disagreement in her office on June 13, 2011, had "struck" him on the back of the head either in 2008 or 2009 (Gableman told Dane County police detectives it was 2008, then changed the year to 2009 after Wisconsin State Journal reporter Dee Hall noticed that there were no meetings of the court on the date Gableman had alleged in 2008).

Following Gableman's testimony to the Dane County police detectives, he apparently forewarned his other "conservative" colleagues on the court that he had so testified. Justices Prosser and Annette Ziegler both told the detectives they had no other knowledge of the alleged incident, despite Gableman's assurances that all seven justices were present. Three other justices have affirmatively denied such an event took place. The remaining justice, Patience Roggensack, has declined to comment.

This space has wondered — as there was a criminal investigation undertaken into the alleged physical altercation between Justices Bradley and Prosser — why there hasn't been a separate investigation into Gableman's allegations. Or whether the Dane County Sheriff's Office would take notice that Mike Gableman may have been misleading them.

Still wondering.

* Somewhat reminiscent of then-Dodge County district attorney and now-Circuit Court Judge Steven G. Bauer's abandoning of Gableman.


gnarlytrombone said...

All this talk of civility is giving me hives. It's a means of casting blame symmetrically, where Bradley calling Prosser "buddy" and Gableman accusing Butler of subverting the entire system of justice carry equal weight.

The real tension, it seems to me, isn't mere personal pique. It's that the court majority considers the minority to be fundamentally illegitimate. The majority in Ozanne was eager to move forward without even giving the minority time to consider, much less weighing that consideration in its own opinion.

illusory tenant said...

"Get over it."

gnarlytrombone said...

This also goes to your last post about Mordecai Lee's reading of the tea leaves: that the root of all this evil is partisans "despising" each other rather than one side having a completely different theory of majority rule.

Display Name said...

I'm chuckling at the phrase "applicator of justice" and thinking of when I might use it next, and in what context.

illusory tenant said...

This subchapter shall be liberally [applicated].