Gavel Grab

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Commentary: Why Wisconsin Justices Should Agree to Recuse

630px-Seal_of_WisconsinFor certain justices sitting on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, recusal is an issue that won’t go away.

Gavel Grab has mentioned a special prosecutor’s recent request for one or more of the justices to recuse themselves from hearing challenges to a campaign finance investigation, and Justice at Stake’s remarks that this reflects the “bitter harvest of electing judges.” The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has reported that four justices benefited from extensive spending by three groups involved in the current cases.

Now a lengthy article by Bruce Murphy at Urban Milwaukee, an online publication, delves further into spending that benefited the justices. He zeroes in on spending by Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and says: Read more

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Special Prosecutor Seeks Judicial Recusal in Wisconsin Cases

Seal_of_the_Supreme_Court_of_Wisconsin.svgThe special prosecutor who has led a state campaign finance investigation now has asked one or more Wisconsin Supreme Court justices to step aside from hearing challenges to the probe.

A Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article said the court filing was sealed, but a docket revealed information that special prosecutor Francis Schmitz brought up “ethical concerns” and asked one or more justices to halt their participation in the case. The investigation has examined whether the campaign of Gov. Scott Walker worked illegally with conservative groups backing him when recall elections were held in 2011 and 2012. Read more

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Commentary Urges ‘No’ Vote in Wisconsin Referendum

Wisconsin voters are starting to see advocacy about an April referendum on how the state’s Chief Justice is chosen. At Wisconsin Election Watch, Ann Jacobs of the Wisconsin Association of Justice urges a “no” vote on a proposed constitutional amendment.

Jacobs says the measure appears aimed at demoting Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson by changing the way the Chief Justice is selected. “Let your voice be heard that our Constitution should not be tinkered with for political gain,” she writes.

The proposed constitutional amendment would allow the court’s justices to choose the Chief Justice, rather than conferring the job on the most senior justice.

When Wisconsin’s legislature approved the amendment, Justice at Stake said, “Changing how courts govern themselves ought to be done carefully and with broad support.  Instead, a group of partisan politicians is focused on scrapping a 125-year old tradition as payback to get at one justice chosen by the voters of Wisconsin.   People want courts to be above politics, not hostage to it.”

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Candidates Raise Tens of Thousands in Wisconsin Court Race

An incumbent Wisconsin Supreme Court justice and her challenger are off and running in raising money to campaign for election on April 7.

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley’s campaign had raised $265,000 by the end of 2014 and the campaign of her opponent, Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley, had raised $74,600, the Associated Press said.

There’s a lot more money involved in judicial elections than just the sums raised by candidates. The Associated Press noted, “In recent years, outside groups with partisan interests have spent heavily on Supreme Court races, far surpassing spending by the actual candidates.” Read more

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Legislature ‘Playing Games’ With Wisconsin High Court: Editorial

630px-Seal_of_WisconsinWisconsin’s Supreme Court is struggling to stay afloat “amid this mess of judicial elections,” politics, and money, declares a Wisconsin State Journal editorial. It warns that “broken public trust” afflicts the court and won’t be fixed by two GOP proposals for change.

Citing a “huge problem of trust and integrity,” the editorial looks ahead to an incumbent and challenger squaring off for a seat on the high court this year. It forecasts “nasty television ads [that] will tarnish the reputations of both candidates, and the winner will be dogged by conflicts of interests, based on who paid big bucks to help the winner get elected.”

Only an appointive system based on merit can ultimately fix all that, but a possible interim repair would be election of justices who serve one 16-year term, the editorial suggests. Meanwhile it says the timing of a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way the Chief Justice is selected (see Gavel Grab) clearly is driven by partisan interest in removing Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson from the post. Read more

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Sharp Criticism of Efforts to Politicize Wisconsin Supreme Court

630px-Seal_of_WisconsinAn effort to change the procedure for picking Wisconsin’s chief justice is coming under increasingly scathing attack, portrayed as partisan payback and an attempt to thoroughly politicize the state Supreme Court.

At the Capital Times, associate editor John Nichols criticized a proposed “closed vote” of the justices “that would invariably be influenced by partisanship, ideology and outside pressure.” A proposed constitutional amendment would allow the justices to choose the chief justice, rather than conferring the job on the most senior justice. Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson currently holds the job, and the proposed constitutional amendment has widely been characterized as one by sought by conservatives to engineer her demotion.

Nichols urged voters to vote no on April 7 when the proposal is considered by a statewide referendum, to avoid “warping the process of selecting the chief justice in order to achieve blatantly political results.”

A Beloit Daily News editorial scorched both the proposed constitutional amendment, and a possible measure to require retirement of judges at 75. “On the merits, while we have no deep objections to these reform ideas, we do object strenuously to the continuing campaign to fully politicize the Wisconsin Supreme Court. It’s basically an effort to turn it into just another partisan province, and citizens should not tolerate it.” The chief justice is 81.

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JAS: Partisan ‘Payback’ in Change to Wisconsin Court Tradition

Seal_of_the_Supreme_Court_of_Wisconsin.svg

A push in Wisconsin’s legislature to change the traditional method of selecting the state Supreme Court’s Chief Justice amounts to partisan “payback,” Justice at Stake said on Thursday.

JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg made the following statement after passage by both chambers of Wisconsin’s legislature, along party lines, of a proposed constitutional amendment:

“Changing how courts govern themselves ought to be done carefully and with broad support.  Instead, a group of partisan politicians is focused on scrapping a 125-year old tradition as payback to get at one justice chosen by the voters of Wisconsin.   People want courts to be above politics, not hostage to it.”

Read more

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Wisconsin Senate Votes to Change How Chief Justice is Picked

Voting along party lines, the Wisconsin Senate on Tuesday approved a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way the state’s Chief Justice is selected. Critics contend the proposal is directed at forcing Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson to step down from that post (see Gavel Grab).

The proposal would have a majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s members choose the Chief Justice, rather than have the justice with the greatest seniority hold the top post, as is now the law. Read more

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Wisconsin Judge Criticizes Proposed Constitutional Amendment

Justice Walsh Bradley

Justice Walsh Bradley

A proposed constitutional amendment, to change the way the Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice is selected, is advancing in the legislature. It drew public criticism from Justice Ann Walsh Bradley.

The proposal would have a majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s members choose the Chief Justice, rather than have the justice with the greatest seniority hold the top post, as is now the law. It was approved by the legislature in 2013 and must get approval a second time, unamended, before it would be placed on the ballot. Legislative committees with jurisdiction have recently approved the measure.

“The constitution, in my mind, is a sacred document,” Justice Walsh Bradley said on a Sunday TV show. “This isn’t what constitutional amendments are for. They’re not for being used as a tool to settle political scores. If you don’t agree with the referee, the answer is not throwing out the rule book.” She labeled the move as one directed at Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, according to The Capital Times. Read more

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Proposal for Judicial Retirement Age Sparks Wisconsin Debate

A Wisconsin state legislator says he intends to sponsor legislation that would require state judges to retire at age 75. The proposal has sparked controversy, with a critic now labeling it “authoritarian” and directed at removing Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson from the bench.

Rep. Dean Knudson, a Republican, said in December he would introduce the legislation, moving to implement a constitutional amendment approved by state voters 37 years ago, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. The measure is not partisan, he insisted, adding, “It’s in our constitution. It’s not optional. It’s a requirement.”

Chief Justice Abrahamson is 81. James Rowen ripped the proposal in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel opinion blog, calling it “a Soviet-style revisionist law to unwind the results of key, non-partisan judicial elections – – to get rid of Shirley Abrahamson, a duly-elected Wisconsin Supreme Justice, who is also the court’s Chief Justice and most senior member.” Read more

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