Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ziegler decision just right

I am not surprised by the Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision to publicly reprimand Justice Annette Ziegler for her handling of some cases involving West Bend Mutual during a time when her husband was one of the directors. One of the things that I do is serve the Court as a referee in attorney discipline cases. Although the final determination as to discipline lies with the Court, I have to make a recommendation. To do that, I often try to find analagous cases and see what discipline was ordered/

It's difficult for two reasons. First, it is hard to find one case that is exactly like another because a variety of factors are considered in determining the appropriate discipline. Second (and this is partially a function of the latter point), for any general "type" of case, you can often find significantly different discipline. This is one of the reasons that type of anectodal analysis done by the hyper-ideological Wisconsin Democracy Campaign is of little value. For cases with a harsh result, you can often find more lenient counterexamples.

But you can get a sense of things. My sense about the Ziegler case has always been that, for someone with no prior disciplinary history on a violation that did not involve dishonesty or knowing disregard of the rules (the court concluded that she should have known that she needed to recuse, not that she intentionally declined to do so) and that resulted in no harm to anyone, a reprimand was the most likely result. In fact, my guess is that, for a matter that was not as high profile as this, the reprimand would most likely have been private. That was simply not possible here.

Some people have suggested that more serious consequences are in order because the former Judge Ziegler now sits on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. But that cuts the other way as well. She was elected to a multi-member Court by voters who were aware of this issue. To remove her - even temporarily - would frustrate the will of the voters. You can just as easily argue that this sets the bar for more serious discipline somewhat higher.


Anonymous said...

The one thing that should come from the Zeigler and Gableman races is easier recall elections.

It should be far easier, than current law sets.

Recalls are all based on what the last race for Governor totals were.
Under current law, a recall election requires, over 500,000 signatures..even for a county clerk who won with 342 votes. A county with 3,000 votes would have to gather over 500,000 signatures!

We should be able to mandate a recall election if signatures that number 51% of the votes cast for that office, in the last race.
No more, no less. No exceptions.
Example; 2008 Gableman/Butler race got 830,450 votes cast.
423,530 signatures and it's a do over.
This would certainly improve the quality of candidates, assure complete disclosures and restore the respect for the offices.

It's our election, and we can change our minds.
It would not wind up with all sorts of recalls, for frivilous reasons. Getting 51% of the voters to change their mind is not an easy task.
It would require a far higher moral and ethical value, laced on the candidates, the parties and the soft money spent.
WMC would think twice before dumping $5 millon on a 'less than candid' candidate.

Jay Bullock said...

A county with 3,000 votes would have to gather over 500,000 signatures!
That's not true. The state-wide vote totals in the governor's race dictate signature counts only in state-wide contests. More local contests need signatures proportional to results in the governor's race in those localities.

A county with only 3000 votes for governor would need 750 signatures on a recall petition for county clerk.

Anonymous said...

I wonder whether they get a law clerk from the Hambone School of Law to lead Justice Gableman to and from the bathroom starting on August 1?