Ziegler faces anxious months before taking Supreme Court seat
Justice Ziegler addresses a recent news conference
MADISON -- Annette Ziegler's recent election to the Wisconsin Supreme Court hasn't shielded her from a possible state ethics probe.
Wisconsin's Judicial Commission is presently considering a full investigation into whether Ziegler as a trial judge failed to recuse herself from cases involving companies she held an interest in. One was a local bank on whose board her husband was paid to serve.
The Judicial Commission will decide on April 20 whether to conduct a formal investigation of 16 such allegations against Ziegler, which were brought by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (WDC). The WDC is a non-partisan campaign-finance watchdog.
Such a probe could eventually result in Ziegler being reprimanded in some way by her fellow Supreme Court judges some months hence.
Of the 16 cases the Commission is mulling over, seven featured the West Bend State Bank while the other nine involved companies in which Ziegler and her husband owned more than $50,000 in stock.
The WDC first leveled ethics charges against conservative Ziegler in the midst of the recent Supreme Court campaign against liberal Linda Clifford. Ziegler coasted to a 58 percent to 42 percent victory over Clifford in last week's election.
A recent issue of LegalNewsLine reported the WDC's estimate that the Ziegler vs. Clifford Supreme Court race was a record-breaker. WDC believes over $6 million was spent in just over a month's campaigning.
Ziegler told an interviewer with Madison's Capital Times that she has nothing to fear from a Judicial Commission probe. "I would welcome an objective review," she said. "I just want to be treated like any other judge would be treated, and not because this was a Supreme Court race."
She may get an opportunity. If the Judicial Commission on April 20 chooses to investigate and ultimately issues a formal complaint, she could be facing displine from the rest of the Supreme Court several months from now. It could even happen after she joins it.
Former Supreme Court Justice Janet Geske told the Capital Times Ziegler will likely face an investigation. But she doubts the matter will reach the Supreme Court, saying: "it will be handled and she will be able to take the bench and it will not be a blemish on her record."
Ziegler is scheduled to officially join the Supreme Court August 1 upon the retirement of Justice Jon Wilcox, who could likely offer advice on the matter. Wilcox was subject to a two-year investigation by the state Elections Board following his re-election in 1997.
During the recent campaign, attack ads against both candidates proved unpopular with many voters. That spurred calls by some lawmakers to mandate public funding for future judicial election campaigns.
But Geske doubts that Ziegler will be harmed by any current probe scandal come re-election time. Wisconsin has 10-year terms for Supreme Court judges.