Last week we heard that Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne was considering asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to re-hear a case against violations of the open meeting requirements in the state’s anti-union law. The case, which the state Supreme Court threw out in a 4-3 ruling, included the participation of Michael Gableman, the Supreme Court justice who received thousands of dollars in free legal services from a high-powered conservative law firm in the state which frequently works on cases before the Court (in a fitting twist, Gableman secured the law firm’s services to defend him in an ethics case). In fact, Michael Best & Friedrich, the law firm in question, worked for the state and Walker’s administration in the case of the anti-union law. Gableman never recused himself from the case, and provided the deciding vote, overturning the ruling from a Dane County district court judge.
Yesterday, Ozanne formally requested the re-opening of the case, arguing that Gableman’s participation represented a conflict of interest.
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne argued in filings with the court that it should vacate its decision because Justice Michael Gableman never disclosed his arrangement with the Michael Best and Friedrich law firm. Wisconsin’s ethics code prohibits state officials from accepting free gifts, and the judicial ethics code bars judges from accepting gifts from anyone likely to appear before them.
Ozanne asked the court to reinstate a circuit judge’s earlier ruling declaring the law void and disqualify Gableman from participating in further proceedings if he won’t recuse himself.
“Reasonable, well-informed people would reasonably question Justice Gableman’s ability to be impartial under the facts presented here,” he wrote. “Respectfully, any litigant in any case deserves to have his case heard by a judge who has not secretly received a valuable gift from the other side’s lawyer.”
It’s hard to argue against Ozanne’s contention here. Gableman clearly received free services from the law firm, the firm worked on cases on which Gableman ruled, and state ethics laws are pretty clear.
But because the effect of adopting Ozanne’s request would be to stay the anti-union law again while the Supreme Court re-heard the open meetings case with six instead of seven Justices, I’d be shocked if the majority-Republican Court complied. Gableman has said through his lawyer that he disputes the contention that Michael Best & Friedrich’s free legal services were a gift. And really, only Gableman has the power to recuse himself; surely the Court would not want to set the precedent of determining another Justice’s recusal.
Just perusing the crazy reasoning in the open meetings case, where they basically said “if the Legislature does it, then it’s not illegal,” gives you enough information to determine how they will react to this request. Still, it’s worth Ozanne giving this a try, if for no other reason than to highlight the blatant corruption at the heart of the Wisconsin conservative establishment, across the political, corporate and judicial arenas.
There are actually other cases pending to invalidate the anti-union law, which strips most collective bargaining rights from public employees, on the merits, including two in federal court. But I’d guess they have far more of a chance of succeeding than appealing to the better natures of Michael Gableman and his Republican colleagues on the state Supreme Court.
One other thing here: Gableman’s attorney, who has been responding to media queries in the case, is none other than Viet Dinh. Yeah, THAT Viet Dinh. The author of the Patriot Act. He’s also on the Board of Directors of News Corp now. The conservative operative family tree has a lot of gnarled branches.