When Democrats in Wisconsin launched a recall campaign against Scott Walker, they also began gathering signatures for recalls of four state Senators, hoping to flip one seat and capture a majority in the upper house of the legislature. Organizers in one of those four districts announced that they have obtained enough signatures to force a recall election for Sen. Van Wanggaard. The other three are all moving precipitously.
They may have to add another recall. One of the Republican-appointed judges on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, an elected position that is subject to recall, has been caught in a major scandal:
State Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman in two cases cast the deciding vote in favor of parties represented by a law firm that gave him tens of thousands of dollars of free legal services, a review of state records shows.
One of those was a high-stakes case this June that allowed Gov. Scott Walker to implement a law that all but eliminates collective bargaining for most public workers. Gableman was in the 4-3 majority that allowed Walker to prevail. Michael Best & Friedrich – the firm that defended Gableman for free in an ethics case – worked for the state and Walker’s administration in the collective bargaining case.
In addition to the collective bargaining case, Gableman supplied the deciding vote in an opinion he wrote this March that sided with a Michael Best client against the City of Milwaukee over tax assessments.
In another case, Gableman’s vote was decisive because it resulted in a 3-3 deadlock over a Milwaukee ordinance requiring employers to provide workers sick leave. If he had not participated, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce – a Michael Best client – would have lost and the justices would have voted to put the ordinance into effect.
So Republicans in Wisconsin wanted to strip collective bargaining. An appeal went all the way up to the state Supreme Court. And the law firm that argued the case for the Administration also is in the habit of giving out free legal services to state Supreme Court justices. Despite this total conflict of interest, Gableman never thought to recuse himself, and he cast the deciding vote. The only time in 10 cases involving Michael Best where Gableman recused himself was a case where the law firm itself was the defendant.
Incidentally, this is not the first time Gableman has been accused of ethics violations. There was a 2008 case where he faced a formal ethics charge for lying in a campaign ad (they apparently take that seriously in Wisconsin). That was when Michael Best represented him for free.
When I visited Madison back in February, I got the sense that the Republican Party and conservative movement in the state was small and completely intertwined, with the big money special interests and the political figures almost indistinguishable. This is the perfect example of that.
This revelation also violates both state law and the judicial ethics code. I don’t expect the Walker Administration to prosecute Gableman. But the people have an option; they can recall the disgraced, corrupt judge.