Maryann Sumi, State Bar Judge of the Year! Really?
I've been told by someone intimately familiar with the process that the Bench/Bar committee for the Wisconsin State Bar met last Friday to consider nominations for the Judge of the Year award. According to my source, Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi was selected over six other nominees.
Yes, that Maryann Sumi.
Judge Sumi gained national attention for her decision last Spring striking down the Collective Bargaining law based on alleged violations of Wisconsin's Open Meetings law. The decision was subsequently reversed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
First, I appreciate that in many respects the law is an art, not a science. Still, making someone Judge of the Year in a year where their most prominent decision was reversed seems - well - odd. It's kind of like giving the prosecutors who blew the O.J. Simpson case an award for outstanding performance.
More importantly though, this is the type of decision that will be perceived by many as being a completely political statement - and political statements are not what a mandatory Bar Association should be making.
About half the States (including Wisconsin) require lawyers to belong to their respective State Bar Association as a condition of practicing law in that State. Over the years, this has generated a lot of controversy in Wisconsin - where many attorneys oppose the mandatory membership requirement. If Judge Sumi is named Judge of the Year, I suspect this decision will provide more fuel for those who think Bar membership should be optional.
A number of years ago, I dropped my membership in the American Bar Association when, in my opinion, the ABA started involving itself more and more in political causes that I didn't agree with. That's fine though. The ABA gets to decide what they want to take positions on - and I get to decide whether I want to belong. Not so for the Wisconsin Bar Association though - where membership is mandatory.
I actually think the State Bar of Wisconsin does a lot of good stuff for the profession. As a result, I would probably choose to belong even if I were not required to.
I also accept, for the sake of argument that Judge Sumi may very well be a fine jurist who, in an ordinary year, would be a good choice for "Judge of the Year". This is not, however, an ordinary year.
Candidly, l think the State Bar needs to be sensitive to decisions that have overtly political implications. And this decision, if it stands, is certainly one of those.