Both candidates get airing in divided Supreme Court race

Legal News Line Mar. 5, 2007, 7:55am

Annette Ziegler

Linda Clifford

It was a busy weekend for followers of the battleground race for the vacant seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. First Linda Clifford, visiting Racine on Saturday, discussed her outspoken views on diversity, bench experience and judicial activism with the media, confirming her label as the solidly liberal candidate. Then conservative candidate Annette Ziegler, who thrashed Clifford 57 percent to 27 percent in last month's three-way primary, drew fire over charges that she failed to disclose a conflict of interest in recent decisions. Clifford and Ziegler are locked in a race that has become deeply divided along political lines. The pair are running for the seat vacated by retiring conservative John Wilcox. Previously with Wilcox the Wisconsin Supreme Court had a 4-3 liberal majority. That would increase to 5-2 if Clifford were to win. The court needs "to diversify the professional background on the court so it's not weighted so heavily in favor of former judges who have lacked interaction with real clients for decades," she told the Racine Journal Times. Critics claim Clifford, who has never sat on the bench, lacks the experience needed to sit on the state's highest court. But she countered that her experience as an assistant attorney general involved writing briefs that contained analysis at the Supreme Court level. Ziegler, the more experienced and more conservative of the two, took heat Sunday after media reports appeared about investigations by a Milwaukee-based left-wing activist group called One Wisconsin Now (OWN). She has been a district court judge for the past 10 years. OWN has been delving into Ziegler's rulings from the past few years looking for damaging information in the deeply partisan race. The group claims to have found records indicating she failed to declare conflicts of interest in 45 cases in the past five years. The cases involve West Bend Savings Bank and the fact that Zeigler's husband has been a paid member of the bank's board of directors since 2001. A spokesman for Ziegler said the couple gains no financial benefit from the bank's legal proceedings. Clifford said she'd like to see the Supreme Court focus on cases involving child protection and economic development, although the court has no say over which cases are brought before it. She also bristled at charges that she would "legislate from the bench" as a "judicial activist" if elected. "I think that has become a perjorative slur used by those who lose cases, to criticize and intimidate justices with the threat of withholding support or threatening their re-election possibility," Clifford said.

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