Wednesday, September 12, 2007

At Which Altar Will They Worship?

The state Judicial Commission got it right when it found that Annette Ziegler engaged in judicial misconduct. But the commission got it wrong when it recommended a mere reprimand as punishment. Members of the legal community who agree are exceedingly reluctant to say so publicly. So it's left to people like me and Bruce Murphy to say it for them.

Now a three-judge "Judicial Conduct Panel" will review the commission's decision before handing the case over to the state Supreme Court for final judgment. We're in uncharted territory here because never before has the state Supreme Court been in a position of having to discipline one of its own members for judicial misconduct.

If the recent remarks of two former Supreme Court justices are at all reflective of current members' thinking, the six who now serve with Ziegler on the high court can't be looking forward to this. Former Supreme Bill Bablitch said the other day that "sitting in judgment of one of their own is awkward to the extreme." Former Justice Janine Geske said it's "certainly nothing that any of them are happy to do."

Their discomfort is understandable. The other six members of the court have to decide cases with Ziegler, and surely hope to persuade Ziegler to sign on to opinions they write.

The big question is which impulse will prevail in the end. . . . The need to at least appear serious about enforcing judicial ethics standards? Or the personal and professional longing for collegiality?

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