Would It Satisfy Some If We Simply We Dressed Them In Sackcloth And Ashes And Flogged Them In The Public Square?
There are losers, sore losers and then there are the completely unhinged. The victories of Annette Ziegler and MIchael Gableman in the last two State Supreme Court races have certainly brought this third group to the forefront.
Ziegler won her race in a landslide. During the campaign, her opponent challenged Ziegler's ethics by arguing that Ziegler, while a Washington County Circuit Judge, had improperly presided over several small-claims where she had a conflict of interest. In general, the cases involved lawsuits brought by a bank against creditors to collect on defaulted loans. The conflict occurred because Ziegler's husband served on the bank's board of directors.
There is no evidence that any of these matters were improperly decided by Ziegler. Similarly, there is no evidence that she benefited financially from her handling of these cases.
Clearly, Ziegler should have recused herself in these matters. As such, it was certainly appropriate for the Wisconsin Supreme Court to reprimand her. That hasn't satisfied her critics though who were hoping for censure, suspension without pay or (for the truly unhinged) removal from office.
As for Justice-elect Gableman, the feigned outrage is even greater.
According to allegations by a group that supported his opponent, Gableman made several long distance phone calls from his Ashland County District Attorney's office to potential contributors and fundraisers in advance of a fundraiser that Gableman was hosting for then-Governor Scott McCallum in June of 2002. These allegations formed the basis fof a television ad run against Gableman during his successful campaign against Louis Butler last April.
Gableman says, that to the best of his recollection, he doesn't believe that he made any political or fund-raising calls from his office. However, he concedes that he does not have a complete recollection of all the calls he may have made 6 years ago.
From the point in time during the campaign that the allegations against Gableman were first raised, there has been a significant question as to who would have the authority to investigate them. Regardless, the statute of limitations has expired relating to these phone calls. Additionally, the new Government Accountability Board has no authority to investigate activity that is more than three years old. As such, the matter is closed.
As with Ziegler, some of Gableman's detractors are outraged that he will not be suspended or prevented from taking the bench because of these 2002 phone calls.
On the one hand, I understand the frustration that people may have with the concept of a statute of limitations. For example, I think it's an absolute injustice that Scott Jensen has been prosecuted for various alleged acts of misconduct in public office while others (who arguably did the same things as Jensen) go free because of the statute of limitations. That's the system though.
Regardless, even had Gableman been found to have done something wrong with regard to these 2002 phone calls, it's absurd to suggest that this would have rendered him unfit to take the bench.
The truth is that the folks who don't like Ziegler and Gableman are never going to like Ziegler and Gableman. And it's not because Ziegler presided over a handful of small claims cases when she shouldn't have. And it's not because Gableman may have made some personal long-distance phone calls from his government office.
The real reason some people are out to get Ziegler and Gableman is because they didn't want them to be elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in the first place - and can't get over the fact that they were!
Perhaps it would make their detractors happy if we dressed the newest Justices in sackcloth and ashes and flogged them in the public square?
Then again, recognizing how unhinged some of their enemies still are, I doubt that even this would satisfy everybody.