Justice Annette Ziegler
MADISON — Wisconsin’s most recent Supreme Court Justice could soon get a taste of how it feels to be on the other side of the bench.
Annette Ziegler, to be sworn in today at the Washington County courtroom she presided over until recently, is still awaiting the outcome of a protracted legal conduct inquiry. She faces punishment by her new Supreme Court colleagues if convicted.
The Wisconsin Judicial Commission is currently considering ethics charges first leveled at Ziegler during her election campaign, LNL reported in March. Judge Ziegler is charged with not recusing herself from court cases concerning a local bank where her husband served as director and companies she invested in.
After her election to the Supreme Court, Ziegler paid a $5,000 fine and $12,000 in legal costs to settle a similar complaint from the Wisconsin Ethics Board. Ziegler won 58-42 over challenger Linda Clifford in the April 3 vote.
The new Justice was accused March 19 by watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (WDC) of violating the judicial code of conduct by not recusing herself. The WDC informed the Judicial Commission of seven cases involving her husband’s bank and nine companies in which Ziegler held over $50,000 in stock.
If the Judicial Commission decides probable cause it will file a formal complaint or petition to the Supreme Court, which decides the punishment phase. The Justices could then decide to either reprimand, censure, suspend and remove Ziegler from the bench.
Observers say it’s rare for an incoming judge to face a misconduct punishment from her own colleagues. “I would not want a judge coming in who has basically said that she decided cases in which her husband’s company was a party,” Charles Geyh of Indiana University told Wisconsin State Journal yesterday.
Ziegler, an avowed conservative, will replace retiring fellow-conservative Jon P. Wilcox on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Clifford, her electoral opponent in March-April, was a well-known liberal attorney in Madison.
The WDC also recently revealed that the Ziegler-Clifford race broke all previous state spending records for similar ballots, LNL reported last month. The two candidates and supporters between them spent almost $6 million during the one-month campaign.
The Judicial Commission has the power either to re-investigate the charges against Ziegler, dismiss them or file with the Supreme Court. It has given no indication yet of when it might rule.