Gavel Grab

Complaint Filed Against Wisconsin Justice

A newly elected Wisconsin Supreme Court justice is the subject of an ethics complaint filed by the state’s Judicial Commission, which says there is “probable cause” to believe he knowingly leveled false charges against his opponent in a nasty, high-cost election last spring.

The five-page complaint focused on a hugely controversial ad, sponsored by Justice Michael Gableman, which suggested that his opponent, former Justice Louis Butler, had allowed a rapist to commit another sex crime by setting him free on a legal loophole.

A storyboard of Gableman’s ad is available at the Brennan Center for Justice

 As the complaint notes, Butler had represented the man while working as a public defender, and never handled his case as a sitting judge. Although Butler convinced courts that there was  a legal error in the defendant’s case, they did not believe it merited his release, and the man served his full term before going free. 

Although rhetoric in judicial races has gotten harsher in recent years, complaints against sitting justices for campaign ads are extremely rare. Cindy Grey of the American Judicature Society said she could not recall a case in which a Supreme Court candidate was disciplined for an improper campaign ad.

Under Wisconsin law, the complaint will be sent to the full Supreme Court for review.  If the complaint is upheld, “the constitutionally authorized sanctions for misconduct are reprimand, censure, suspension, and removal,” according to the Wisconsin Judicial Commission web site.  

The complaint said there is “probable cause to believe that Judge Gableman willfully violated” the state’s judicial conduct code which requires that “a candidate for judicial office shall not knowingly, or with reckless disregard for the statement’s truth or falsity, misrepresent the identity, qualifications, present position or other fact concerning the candidate or an opponent.

For other Gavel Grab posts on the Butler-Gableman campaign, click here.

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