Before sentencing former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen to 15 months in prison and banning him from the Capitol for five years, Judge Steven Ebert lectured Jensen for close to 20 minutes about his crimes. In doing so, Ebert spoke volumes about government ethics in Wisconsin and the condition of our democracy.
Ebert said as he listened to testimony day after day, he would "wonder whether or not this trial illustrated the ethical standards of the Legislature and the corrupting influence of money and power. And I have to conclude that yes, it did. Painfully so. It reflected that." He went on to say "Wisconsin's government is indeed in a deplorable state."
The judge told Jensen "you have placed personal ambition and greed above your oath of office," undermining democracy for a "private and venal" purpose. Ebert said Jensen was the ringleader of an "elite cabal" that engaged in "chicanery and deception," and told the Waukesha-area Republican "your acts reflect the truth of the statement, 'power corrupts.'"
Ebert was just getting warmed up. "What occurred was little more than common thievery elevated to a higher plane for one purpose, and that was to push forward your agenda." He added, "I think that represented the degradation of the Wisconsin ideal of democracy."
The judge continued: "You knew what you were doing. You knew it was illegal."
And then this: "Your idea of representative government is if you've got the money, you're represented."
Ebert said the end result of Jensen's actions was the "perversion of the legislative process." He lamented that "there was a time when many of us can remember taking pride in Wisconsin's reputation for good government. Unfortunately, that's no longer the case."
In the end, the judge told Jensen, "to ensure your political party prevailed, you have guaranteed that you're going to be known and remembered for these felony convictions and for the harm you've created...."