Group says Wis. justice violated state ethics code

Jessica M. Karmasek Dec. 22, 2011, 1:15pm


MADISON, Wis. (Legal Newsline) - A Democratic coalition in Wisconsin has filed an ethics complaint against state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign filed a complaint with the state's Government Accountability Board Wednesday. The board enforces state campaign finance, ethics and lobbying laws.

The WDC alleges Gableman violated a state ethics code that prohibits state officials from receiving gifts when he got two years of free representation from a law firm.

According to the WDC, the law firm of Michael Best and Friedrich and its lawyer, Eric McLeod, represented Gableman from July 2008 to July 2010 in a judicial ethics complaint that accused the justice of lying about an opponent in a 2008 campaign ad.

Gableman, who defeated former Justice Louis Butler for a 10-year seat on the bench, was not found in violation of the judicial ethics code because the Supreme Court came to a deadlock in the case.

The law firm has said a deal was made with Gableman that required him to pay his bill only if he won his case and was reimbursed his attorney fees by the state.

The WDC's two-page complaint accuses the justice of not listing the free legal services as a gift on a form filled out yearly by most state officials, showing their income, debt and other financial relationships.

On Tuesday, the WDC also asked the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, which enforces ethics and other rules governing the conduct of judges, to investigate Gableman.

The WDC alleges he violated the judicial code of ethics that says judges cannot accept gifts from parties likely to appear before them in court.

According to the WDC, Gableman has ruled on "numerous" cases before the state's high court involving clients represented by Michael Best and Friedrich since the firm took his case in 2008.

Most notably, Gableman was part of the majority that voted 4-3 to let Gov. Scott Walker's administration implement its controversial collective bargaining bill. Michael Best and Friedrich represented the Walker administration in the case.

On top of that, the firm has five cases before the Court that Gableman is participating in, according to the WDC.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign describes itself as a group "working for a real democracy that allows the common good to prevail over narrow interests."

It says it specializes in tracking the money in state politics, and works for campaign finance reform.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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