Justice Annette Ziegler
MADISON -- The latest member of the Wisconsin Supreme Court must have breathed a sigh of relief at the punishment she finally faces before comfortably settling onto the top bench.
Justice Annette Ziegler, who ascended early last month, yesterday agreed to face only a public reprimand from her new colleagues following a misconduct investigation by the Wisconsin Judicial Commission (WJC).
The WJC's Complaint charged Ziegler with not recusing herself from seven cases where she held a financial interest in a party. But Ziegler and the WJC also jointly filed a stipulation yesterday with the Supreme Court limiting her potential punishment.
In that stipulation: "Judge Ziegler admits the allegations in the Complaint filed by the Commission." But both parties favor reprimand partly because of Ziegler's cooperation with the Commission's probe.
The WJC Complaint filed yesterday alleges Ziegler "engaged in judicial misconduct" over non-recusals as a lower court judge. In a letter to Ziegler, the WJC focused on cases involving mortgage giant Fannie Mae (FNMA), Ford and General Motors.
The letter said the Commission had found "credible evidence" that Ziegler and her husband held stock worth over $51,000 in Fannie Mae during a period when Ziegler heard four cases involving FNMA. It made a similar finding in two cases involving General Motors Corp. and one with Ford Motor Co.
"Judges should disclose on the record information concerning stock ownership that...the judge believes the parties...might consider relevant to the question of recusal, even if the judge believes there is no real basis for recusal," WJC Vice Chair Judge David Hansher wrote to Ziegler.
Ziegler earlier settled similar charges before the Wisconsin Ethics Board in return for admitting violations of its standard of judicial conduct, LNL reported in May. She also agreed to pay a $5,000 fine and $7,000 in costs.
She became a lightning rod for liberal activists in Wisconsin during her Supreme Court ballot battle in March with Madison attorney Linda Clifford. The campaign, which featured high-profile advertising on both sides, broke all state spending records at almost $6 million, LNL reported in July.
Yesterday's WJC filings did not address 11 cases Ziegler heard during the same period involving lawsuits against West Bend Savings Bank. Earlier complaints against her charge Ziegler did not recuse herself from these cases although her husband served on the bank's board of directors.