A Profound Failure of Judicial Ethics

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is out with an editorial critical of Justice Gableman and his relationship with Michael Best & Friedrich.  Gableman’s ethical shortcomings are obvious even to the rightward leaning editors at the MJS.

Though the editorial falls short of demanding that Justice Gableman resign, they do call into serious question his judicial impartiality on several cases involving Michael Best & Friedrich, the GOP-linked law firm that provided him with free legal representation.  MB&F brought several cases before the high court during and subsequent to providing Justice Gableman these free services.

While he was being represented by the firm and in the year and a half since, Gableman participated in nine cases involving Michael Best & Friedrich clients. He recused himself from a 10th case, in which the firm itself was being sued. In the nine, he ruled in favor of Michael Best five times. In two of the cases, he was in a 4-3 majority; in another, his vote led to a tie. In the four cases in which he voted against Michael Best clients, the votes weren’t close.

What Gableman did was about as unethical as it gets for a judge.  In essence, he accepted a bribe (explicit or implicit, it really doesn’t matter) to rule on cases he should, in good conscience, have recused himself from.  The rules as laid out in the Wisconsin Judicial Code of Conduct could not be clearer.  A judge may accept

10. Any other gift, favor or loan, only if the donor is not a party or other person who has come or is likely to come or whose interests have come or are likely to come before the judge.

Which is followed by a very explicit COMMENT about the very specific example we’re reviewing here:

Unless authorized by other provisions of sub. (4) (e), sub. (4)(e) 10 prohibits judges from accepting gifts, favors or loans from lawyers or their firms if they have come or are likely to come before the judge; it also prohibits gifts, favors or loans from clients of lawyers or their firms when the clients’ interests have come or are likely to come before the judge.See sec. 19.43 etseq., Stats.

If tens of thousands  of dollars of free legal services from a law firm that comes before the Wisconsin Supreme Court on dozens of occasions for dozens of clients does not trigger a violation of rule 10 than what would?  Does someone have to have videotape of a lawyer from Michael Best handing a sack of $100 bills to Gablemen for this rule to trigger?  Has it really come to that?

But I think I see the source of the problem, and it comes from the preamble of the Judicial Code of Conduct.  It reads,

Our legal system is based on the principle that an independent, fair and competent judiciary will interpret and apply the laws that govern us.  The role of the judiciary is central to American concepts of justice and the rule of law.  Intrinsic to all provisions of this Code are the precepts that judges, individually and collectively, must respect and honor the judicial office as a public trust and strive to enhance and maintain confidence in our legal system.  The judge is an arbiter of facts and law for the resolution of disputes and a highly visible symbol of government under the rule of law.

Republicans have long held a strong contempt for an independent judiciary.  It is apparent to me that Justice Gablemen believes himself to be exempt from the code’s stipulation to “an independent, fair and competent judiciary.”  The GOP have no such requirement themselves.  Silly me.  It’s so obvious.

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5 thoughts on “A Profound Failure of Judicial Ethics

  1. How does a society reinstate ethics into judicial & government processes after it has been so clearly trampled. “But he did it” mentality is pwerful.

  2. I thought this was a serious article until i read “rightward leaning editors at the MJS”, somebody was hitting the crack pipe early and often. Thanks for the funny.

  3. You got me Steve, two funnies in one day, unfortunately your inabilty to hit the correct keys is less funny and borderline sad. For your sake I hope it is just a fat finger problem.

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