A report by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, about state Supreme Court justices receiving campaign donations from attorneys whose cases reach the high court, raises questions about public confidence in impartial justice. The report also cited a Justice at Stake survey.
The report appeared in the Capital Times and was headlined, “Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices tend to favor attorney donors.” It said these attorneys gave a total of $210,750 to current justices between 2002 and June 2013; 56 percent of the donations were received before the court ruled in the attorneys’ cases; and in these instances, justices “favored those attorneys’ clients 59 percent of the time.”
Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson was the top recipient of campaign support from these attorneys, at $188,650, the report said.
“Any research that shows a correlation between donations and a justice’s decision on a case is only going to create greater concern among members of the public,” warned Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a Justice at Stake partner Read more
A handful of special interest groups outspent the candidates in this year’s contest for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, in which incumbent Justice Pat Roggensack defeated challenger Ed Fallone, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reported last week.
Justice Roggensack’s campaign spent $652,318, and Fallone’s campaign, $394,582. In contrast, Wisconsin Democracy campaign said, groups spending in support of Justice Roggensack or against Fallone were Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, an estimated $500,000; Club for Growth Wisconsin, an estimated $350,000; and a corporation of the Wisconsin Realtors Association, $206,648.
“When interest groups routinely outspend the candidates, judges are pressured to be accountable to them instead of the law,” said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, in an April statement about the Wisconsin Supreme Court election and outside spending.
The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign is a JAS partner organization. An Associated Press article was headlined, “$3M spent on state Supreme Court, DPI races.”
Wisconsin Supreme Court justices discussed changes to the state’s judicial ethics code on Friday, but couldn’t seem to decide on alterations to recusal rules, reports the Legal Newsline.
The justices held an Open Rules Conference on Friday to discuss Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson’s proposed revisions. According to the article, Abrahamson would like to see the court follow provisions from a code of conduct created by the American Bar Association.
Newly reelected Justice Pat Roggensack argued that the court should not be revising the code in an open meeting forum.
Justice David Prosser said he was worried that attorneys and special interest groups would abuse the new recusal rules, and use them to push certain justices off a case.
Both Abrahamson and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley are in support of making the changes in the open, the article says.
More Wisconsin news media have seized on an analysis by Justice at Stake and a partner group, the Brennan Center for Justice, of TV spending in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race that concluded Tuesday.
“When interest groups routinely outspend the candidates, judges are pressured to be accountable to them instead of the law,” said Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director, according to a Wisconsin Gazette article.
The analysis found that TV ad spending in the contest exceeded $1.1 million, and more than two-thirds of it came from conservative interest groups (see Gavel Grab). They spent in support of incumbent Justice Patience Roggensack, who defeated challenger Ed Fallone, a law school professor.
TV ad spending in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race that concluded this week exceeded $1.1 million, and more than two-thirds of it came from conservative interest groups, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice reported on Thursday.
Justice Patience Roggensack defeated law professor Ed Fallone (see Gavel Grab) as outside groups and the incumbent outspent the challenger on TV ads by nearly a ten-to-one margin. Roggensack spent about $155,000 on TV advertising, the pro-business group WMC Issues Mobilization Council spent about $470,000 in support of Roggensack during the general election, and the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth spent about $300,000 in ads backing Roggensack during the primary.
Fallone spent about $190,000 on TV ads, while progress and labor groups sat on the sideline. The spending in 2013 declined from recent years; two years ago, total TV ad spending in the state Supreme Court contest exceeded $3.9 million.
Incumbent Justice Patience Roggensack of the Wisconsin Supreme Court defeated challenger Ed Fallone, a Marquette University law professor, by 57 percent to 43 percent with 93 percent of precincts reporting, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Justice Roggensack emphasized her 17 years of experience as a judge, while Fallone focused on what he called dysfunction of the bitterly divided, seven-member court. While the race was officially non-partisan, the incumbent drew widespread support from Republicans and the challenger from Democrats. The Election Day outcome did not change a 4-3 conservative majority on the high court.
Justice Roggensack raised $536,000 compared to about $320,000 raised by her challenger as of March 18, the Journal Sentinel said. According to the Associated Press, conservative groups backed Justice Roggensack with at least $500,000 spent on TV advertising, while Fallone did not get third-party groups’ support.
The contest reminded voters of an embarrassing incident in which Justice David Prosser was accused of putting a fellow justice in a chokehold during a disagreement. A TV ad aired Read more
Wisconsin Public Radio has produced an explanatory piece about judicial recusal and how the court’s rules have become a campaign issue in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race.
In 2009, the Wisconsin Supreme Court weakened its recusal policy significantly, saying that campaign expenditures could not be a cause for an elected judge to recuse.
Challenger Ed Fallone, a Marquette University law professor, has called for changing the rule.
“I think that when someone leaves the courthouse, and they have perhaps lost their case, they need to feel that they were treated fairly,” he said at a recent debate. “When they discover that that judge had received substantial campaign contributions from someone on the other side of the aisle — either the party or their lawyer — they’re going to doubt whether they were treated fairly.”
Incumbent Justice Patience Roggensack, defending the rule, said it should not be assumed that a judge will be influenced by campaign cash. Read more
As the race for a seatt on the Wisconsin Supreme Court draws to a close, the Associated Press is reporting that incumbent Justice Pat Roggensack has spent $351,367 on her campaign since the February primary election.
Roggensack’s opponent, Marquette University law professor Ed Fallone, reportedly spent $172,305 during that time frame.
Roggensack has received contributions from the state Republican Party, and is generally viewed as part of a conservative bloc on the court, the article says. The election is officially nonpartisan, however.
Fallone has focused his campaign on the argument that the court is dysfunctional. Roggensack contends that the race should be about who has more experience on the bench instead, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article.
In the February primary, a 34-point margin separated Fallone from Roggensack with the incumbent justice in the lead (see Gavel Grab). A third candidate, Vince Megna, received only 6 percent of the vote.
On Friday, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Pat Roggensack and Marquette University law professor Ed Fallone jabbed back and forth at each other during a debate sponsored by the Wisconsin Bar Association and a coalition of media outlets.
The two are competing for a ten-year term on the state high court in the April 2 election. An Associated Press article says that Roggensack touted her experience on the Supreme Court, and 17 years total as a judge.
“I have reviewed hundreds and hundreds of cases,” Roggensack said. “Because of that experience I am able to give the public a much more thorough review of the legal cases.”
Fallone attempted to turn the argument away from court experience, and focused on his claim that the court is dysfunctional. “We need to get our court functioning again and I absolutely believe it is time for a fresh start,” Fallone argued. Read more
In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:
- The Indiana Supreme Court has blocked the appointment of Judge Nicholas Schiralli to a juvenile court judgeship after three magistrates sued in protest of his appointment, reports the Associated Press. The magistrates want the vacancy to be filled by a judge chosen through the state’s merit selection process.
- Leading up to the Wisconsin Supreme Court election, candidate Ed Fallone continues to blame incumbent Justice Pat Roggensack for perpetuating dysfunction on the court after a 2011 incident between the justices, says Bruce Murphy in an Urban Milwaukee article. Murphy cites a 2011 survey from Justice at Stake that found that 84% of Wisconsin voters knew about allegations of violence against Justice David Prosser.