Friday, April 03, 2009

The watchdog is sleeping

No one cares much about this year's race for Wisconsin Supreme Court. For a variety of reasons, Randy Koschnick failed to engage conservative interests (it is not because they don't care) and lacks the resources to wage a credible campaign. I understand why this is the case, but it is unfortunate.

Still, there is a race and there is discourse. Last year, the much criticized Wisconsin Judicial Campaign Integrity Committee reminded us that judges have no constituents and judicial candidates ought not to suggest that they do. Although the Committee took "no formal action" against then candidate Michael Gableman (it had no power to do so), it expressed its concern about Gableman materials suggesting that, while Gableman supported law enforcement, Justice Louis Butler ruled too often for criminal defendants. Responding to a complaint from One Wisconsin Now, the committee said that the controversy:

reminds voters (as well as candidates and their supporters) that judges are not elected to “represent” the interests of any specific group or political agenda, as is commonly expected of candidates for non-judicial office. Rather, their role is to administer justice in a fair and impartial manner; to be arbiters of conflict, not spokespersons or representatives for various parties to a legal proceeding, such as law enforcement, prosecutors or defendants in criminal proceedings.

In an op-ed, Committee Chair (and State Bar President Tom Basting) wrote, in connection with same materials, that "committee members were very concerned about the choice of words used to illustrate these differences because they implied that candidates for judicial office represent (or ought to represent) the interests of specific groups."

While I agree that it is wrong to view judges "as part of law enforcement," I had some differences with the WJCIC on what that implies for judicial campaign speech, but there's no point in rehearsing it here. My question is different.

Where is the WJCIC? We know that it has been reconstituted for the 2009 election but it seems to have either come over to my side or to have nodded off. The Abrahamson campaign is out with an ad extolling the Chief Justice for being "law enforcement's ally." Again, while I think that judges are not supposed to be law enforcement's ally (and Chief Justice Abrahamson, for better or worse, is not), I would not complain of the ad for that reason. Criticizing opponents for being too "pro-criminal" or claiming that a candidate supports law enforcement is way of communicating a philosophical position in the context of a campaign ad directed to lay persons. These claims are not completely accurate and are somewhat hamhanded, but, then, most political advertising shares those shortcomings. (Whether this ad accurately conveys the candidate's philosophical position is another matter.)

But the WJCIC (and apparently One Wisconsin Now)sees things differently.

So where are they? Why isn't this ad "of concern" to members of the Committee? Why isn't its implication that judges have constituents or represent the interests of a specific group (in this case, law enforcement) a teachable moment?

Did I miss something?


Anonymous said...

ALthough it is interesting to see that she has stooped to the old, "I will protect you from sexual predators" line, what is more disturbing about CJ Abrahamson's campaign, at least to me, is the ad regarding home foreclosures and how judges are supposed to "help people." First, I don't know that I think that judges are to help people; lawyers are to help people--namely, their clients--but I wouldn't say that I want a judge going to work everyday thinking she is supposed to help the people that appear before her. Also, where does she get off saying she has beein "helping homeowneres work out solutions to avoid foreclosure"? That statement is just as much of a misrepresentation as Justice Gableman's Rueben Lee Mitchell commercial last year. Yes, I know the court has administrative duties so she can likely hide behind some, well-intentioned, alternative dispute program the has set up regarding home foreclosures to support her statement. But this is much like J. Gableman being able to hide behind the fact that every statement his ad made was factually accurate. Both commercials use words and sentences that are true, but when you watch actually watch or listen to the ads they each convey distinct messages from the words. J.Gableman conveyed that his opponent would be more likely to allow a child molester out on the street, whereas CJ. Abrahamson conveys the message that she is more likely to "help" the people that appear before her, especially those down on their luck. I see the two situations as very similar, they both play on voters fears unfairly, and I just can't help to wonder where all the outrage is this time around.

Very strange; or maybe not.

Scot1and said...

Also, where does she get off saying she has beein "helping homeowneres work out solutions to avoid foreclosure"?

It's not a misrepresentation. The Wisconsin Supreme Court set up a pilot program for mediation of foreclsoures.

The C.J. was directly invoved in the program, so how is it misleading?

illusory tenant said...

Why end the quote there:

This is more than an abstract goal because no citizen of Wisconsin should ever appear before a judge who has already decided a case before hearing about the facts and applicable law.

In case you've forgotten, the complaint of OWN's that you mention was inspired by a specific piece of Gableman campaign literature and it was in that context that the WJCIC responded.

Rick Esenberg said...

Yes, I do recall that.

And your point is what?

What is different about the Gableman criticism of Butler in service of an attempt to establish who is on the right side with the Abrahamson claim to be an ally of law enforcement butressed by an ad that implies she is responsible for the two strikes law (as opposed to simply not striking down what the legislature chose to do).

Anonymous said...

Super Id,

As I said, the CJ's ad is "just as much of a misrepresentation as" J.Gableman's ad last year. The point being, both ads are factually accurrate when written on paper or taken slice-by-slice, but the message that both protray about their candidate is misleading in the sense that the viewer is lead to believe that without Gableman we would have people like R.L. Mitchell on the street and without Abrahamson more of us would be out on the street. The context is obviously different, but the "big-picture" message of each is strikingly similar.

Anonymous said...

Basting, et al. were a bunch of pathetic hacks trying to defend the legal establishment. Their shameful e-mail correspondence demonstrated as much. You can be sure if they believed the CJ was in any real danger, WJCIC would promptly reconstitute itself and go after her opponent.

Clutch said...

where does she get off saying she has beein "helping homeowneres work out solutions to avoid foreclosure"? That statement is just as much of a misrepresentation as Justice Gableman's Rueben Lee Mitchell commercial last year.

It's true. The misrepresentative fear-mongering and transparent racism roused against Koschnick by Abrahamson's correct statement that she's helped homeowners avoid foreclosure is pretty obvious, to someone who looks really, really hard at it while thinking just the right thoughts.

George Mitchell said...

Rick's question properly rheotorical.

Why is the ad not "of concern" to the committee? Because it is a phony group that evolved and operated under false pretenses.