Wis. lawmaker wants SC justice out

Jessica M. Karmasek Jan. 12, 2012, 1:47pm



MADISON, Wis. (Legal Newsline) - A member of the Wisconsin Legislature is seeking the removal of a state Supreme Court justice for allegedly violating a state ethics code.

State Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, D-Madison, said Wednesday she made the "difficult decision" to begin proceedings to remove Justice Michael Gableman from the state's high court due to his alleged "ethical and legal misconduct."

The lawmaker -- who is currently running for U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin's seat in Congress -- is the latest to seek action against Gableman.

Last month, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign filed a complaint with the state's Government Accountability Board against the justice. 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.

In addition, the WDC last month asked the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, which enforces ethics and other rules governing the conduct of judges, to investigate Gableman.

It 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.

Under the Wisconsin Constitution, the state Legislature may remove judges by a two-thirds vote in both houses.

Roys called her resolution, which asks fellow lawmakers to do just that, "unfortunate" but "necessary."

"After accepting what is likely many thousands of dollars in free legal services, Justice Gableman participated in cases involving Michael Best and Friedrich clients -- in some cases, casting the deciding vote in their favor," she said in a statement. "By doing so, Justice Gableman has violated numerous provisions of Wisconsin law governing conduct of public officials and Wisconsin's Judicial Code of Conduct.

"Given the seriousness of Justice Gableman's breaches of the public trust, we as legislators have an obligation to take action and initiate removal proceedings. These are significant legal and ethical violations for any public official -- much less for a Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court."

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Gableman's removal is "unlikely." The GOP holds the majorities in both houses and would most likely not vote to get rid of the conservative justice.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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