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Is justice for sale on Supreme Court?

Many of you are probably aware of the classic lesson in ethics going on with state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman. For the rest of you, here is a brief timeline covering the last four years:

In 2008, Michael Gableman wins a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, defeating Justice Louis Butler, in part by running false and misleading campaign ads. Gableman also has the deep-pocket backing of all the usual big business, anti-environment, anti-labor lobbyists.

Shortly after the 2008 election, Gableman is charged by the state Judicial Commission with lying in his campaign ads. Gableman hires an attorney from Michael Best and Friedrich, a Milwaukee law firm, to defend him. The state Supreme Court (without Gableman voting) splits 3-3 on the ethics charge in a strict party-line vote in June 2010. Because of the vote deadlock, the ethics charge is suspended and the court decides not to pursue it further.

In 2010-11, Gableman remains on the state Supreme Court, participating and voting in favor of several cases in which Michael Best and Friedrich represented clients, including the case upholding Governor Scott Walker’s controversial collective bargaining bill.

In December 2011, Michael Best and Friedrich LLP disclosed that Gableman had not been required to pay for their legal services defending him against the campaign ethics charges. In what seems to be a sweetheart deal for Gableman, the law firm would be paid only if Gableman won his ethics case and the state picked up his legal fees. Certainly, not a sweetheart deal for the state’s taxpayers. And, in spite of the cozy relationship he enjoys with Michael Best and Friedrich, Gableman failed to recuse himself from the nine cases before the court involving their clients.

So Gableman is still sitting on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. A case soon to be in front of this court is the state’s new redistricting plan. The new redistricting boundaries were drawn up by the Republicans assisted by (you guessed it) Michael Best and Friedrich. The case coming before the court is to determine if the upcoming recall elections will use the new maps, which favor the Republicans. Current state law sets the new redistricting to take effect in the fall of 2012 after the recall elections.

With such a blatant conflict of interest, Gableman should, at least, recuse himself from any more cases involving Michael Best and Freidrich. Of course, because of his apparent disregard for the ethical standards expected of his position, perhaps he should resign altogether.

Recent events, such as the kerfuffle between Justices David Prosser and Ann Walsh Bradley, have shown that the state Supreme Court is already dysfunctional. And the citizens of Wisconsin deserve a court beyond reproach.

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