Recall group wants Wis. justice to recuse himself

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Jan 18, 2012


MADISON, Wis. (Legal Newsline) - A lawyer for a recall election group in Wisconsin says state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman should recuse himself from a case that could affect the group's efforts, according to a filing Tuesday.

Attorney Jeremy P. Levinson, who represents the state Democratic Party and United Wisconsin, wants the justice to step aside in a case over what legislative maps should be used in recall elections of four Republican state senators.

They are Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau; Sen. Pam Galloway, R-Wausau; Sen. Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls; and Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine.

Fitzgerald has been a Senate member since 1994. The others were first elected in 2010.

According to his 17-page filing with the state Supreme Court, Levinson argues Gableman should disqualify himself from the case because the justice previously received free legal services from the law firm of Michael Best and Friedrich.

The firm -- which has since stepped aside -- helped GOP lawmakers redraw the legislative boundaries and initially represented Republicans in the lawsuit.

"These very proceedings triggered the revelations of Justice Gableman's previously concealed financial relationship with Michael Best and Friedrich, the law firm that initiated these proceedings and provided counsel to Republican officials and interests throughout the events from which these proceedings arise, e.g., drafting the legislation at the center of these proceedings," Levinson wrote in his reply brief.

"Any suggestion that the existence, nature and concealment of the relationship between Justice Gableman and MBF does not present very unusual, profound and troubling issues in this and related proceedings would be both baseless and would demean the Court and all stakeholders in these proceedings."

The Republicans' new attorney, Michael Dean, had filed a response arguing that the justice's arrangement with the firm was proper.

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 state 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.

"Recusal or disqualification is appropriate because Justice Gableman received tens of thousands of dollars worth of free services from MBF. Nonetheless, Justice Gableman participated in these proceedings," Levinson wrote.

"No party was in a position to questions his participation at the time because Justice Gableman had failed to report this gift on his annual financial disclosures. MBF withdraw from these proceedings and several days later it was made public that the firm had represented Justice Gableman for two years at no charge.

"The recusal or disqualification that should have occurred at the beginning of these proceedings should occur now."

Levinson is just the latest to seek action against Gableman for his arrangement with the law firm.

Last week, state Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, D-Madison, began proceedings to remove the justice from the state's high court due to his alleged ethical and legal misconduct.

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

In addition, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign last month filed a complaint with the state's Government Accountability Board against Gableman. The board enforces state campaign finance, ethics and lobbying laws.

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

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.

Walker, like the four state senators, is likely to face a recall election later this year.

Democrats filed more than a million signatures against Walker with the GAB Tuesday and more than 800,000 signatures against Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.

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

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