Sunday, February 25, 2007

Experience and the Supreme Court

Charlie Sykes suggests that Linda Clifford is running on her lack of qualifications in claiming that she is the most qualified candidate in the race because she is not a judge. Charlie writes "So can I be a pilot, Because I've never flown? A brain surgeon, because I'm not a doctor? An NFL coach because I've never even coached the pee-wee league? "

It may surprise those who think I'm "really" shilling for the Ziegler campaign, but I disagree. Although I think Clifford goes too far, the point she is making is that the court should have lawyers with different backgrounds and all but two of the current members of the court were judges before they became justices.

There are a number of backgrounds that might qualify a lawyer to serve on the court other than service as a trial judge. The latter post is certainly relevant to service on the court but is also very different. A justice like Louis Butler who had been a public defender and trial judge certainly had a lot of background in the criminal justice system, but virtually no background in the other areas implicated by the courts' work.

A trial judge can turn out to be a very good justice (see. e.g., Diane Sykes) as can someone who never was a judge (see, e.g., David Prosser or, even though I often disagree with her decisions, Shirley Abrahamson).

We ought to be more concerned about what these candidates will do on the court than how they got here.


Daniel - said...

S&S: I would attribute the current WI Supreme Court's membership to a broader trend in the judiciary towards appointing judges to progressively higher courts. We don't appoint practicing lawyers (Abe Fortas) or U.S. Senators or Cabinet Officers to the US Supreme Court nearly as we did in the past, for instance.

Dad29 said...

It might be even more useful to elect several NON-lawyers, so long as they were certified in Common Sense.

Anonymous said...

Rick: I agree that a Supreme Court Justice does not have to have circuit court experience. I also agree with dad29 that their are non-lawyers that could make good justices. I read elsewhere and agree that most important we need honorable people on the bench. Our Chief Justice seems to be the only one publicly stating that the people own the courts, not lawyers. Let's try to get more honorable people on the court.

Anonymous said...

Sykes sets up a phony straw man and then shoots it down. Clifford has had substantial experience as a litigator at the Circuit Court level and before the Court of Appeals as well as the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court is an appellate court. When a case is taken to the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals, the debate is over whether an error was made at the level below and whether or not the law was interpreted correctly. An experienced litigator with significant appellate experience is just as qualified as a Circuit Court judge in many instances and is more qualified in terms of familiarity with the tasks at hand.

Typical Chickenhawk Charlie performance -- he tosses out a red herring and then shoots it.

Anonymous said...

I think if Charlie Sykes did his home work on Judge Annette Ziegler, he would be asking her to withdraw from the race.

Anonymous said...

Apparently Judge Annette hasn't been following the law concerning what to do when a Judge has a conflict of interest. This is a very serious allegation which, if true, reflects poorly upon her judgment.

If true, it sounds like the good Judge isn't following Supreme Court rules. If true, she was engaging in a little illegal "judicial activism" on an ad hoc basis. Tsk, tsk!

Mar 4, 7:37 PM EST

Analysis: Judge didn't disclose potential conflicts of interest

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Circuit Judge Annette Ziegler, a candidate for the state Supreme Court, failed to disclose potential conflicts of interest in at least four cases involving a bank on whose board her husband is a paid member, an analysis of court records found.

Mark Graul, Ziegler's campaign spokesman, said Ziegler wasn't always able to inform litigants of the potential conflict because some cases were handled by mail or telephone. But a number of defendants say Ziegler still should have told them, and at least one defendant said he would have requested a different judge had he known.

All four cases involved people sued in 2006 by West Bend Savings Bank, according to an analysis by the Wisconsin State Journal. J.J. Ziegler, the husband of the Washington County Circuit judge, sits on the bank's board.

The defendants in those cases told the Madison newspaper that Annette Ziegler neither withdrew from the cases nor disclosed her conflict, as required by state Supreme Court rules.

In one case, the bank sought to recover a $12,000 debt from Greg Kottke, owner of Lomira-based Blackhawk Repossession, Investigation and Towing Services. Ziegler allowed the bank to repossess three assets from Kottke's company despite his request that the bank repossess only a single truck worth more than the debt.

"If she would've said she was involved with West Bend Savings Bank ... we would've said we want a different judge," Kottke said. "You want it at least to be fair."

In a statement, Ziegler said everyone who enters her courtroom is treated fairly.

"I am proud of my record as a judge and am certain any objective review of the cases I have heard will indicate no bias towards any party," she said.

James Alexander, executive director of the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, said judges facing a potential conflict of interest should step down from the case or inform both parties and continue only with explicit permission from each.

Graul, the judge's spokesman, noted that the West Bend bank is owned by the deposit holders, not the board.

"The Zieglers don't gain any financial benefit from West Bend Savings Bank's legal proceedings," Graul said.

But Alexander said according to conflict-of-interest rules, it's irrelevant whether a judge benefits financially from a relationship. He declined to say whether the state commission would investigate Ziegler's conflicts

Judges who violate Supreme Court rules are subject to reprimand, censure, suspension or removal.

Ziegler faces Madison attorney Linda Clifford in the April 3 election for a 10-year term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Ziegler, who has been on the Washington County bench for 10 years, was the top vote-getter in the three-way primary last month.


Information from: Wisconsin State Journal,