Defending the reprimand recommended by the state Judicial Commission, Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler's lawyer says Ziegler deserves to be treated like any other judge guilty of judicial misconduct. Attorney Jon Axelrod notes that a municipal court judge was publicly reprimanded for ruling on cases involving relatives.
"I think the citizens of this state would be concerned if Judge Ziegler was treated better . . . or worse, " Axelrod said.
Actually, the public reaction to the news that Ziegler might get nothing more than a slap on the wrist for admitted violations of Wisconsin's conflict-of-interest rules for judges is so far running more along the lines of this.
In making his case for lenience for his client, Attorney Axelrod overlooked an enduring rule of accountability that has been articulated by everyone from comic strip characters to some of the world's greatest statesmen. It even is conspicuous in Scripture.
Winston Churchill said the "price of greatness is responsibility." Franklin Delano Roosevelt made a similar remark in his 1945 state of the union address: "In a democratic world, as in a democratic nation, power must be linked with responsibility. . . ." Thirty seven years earlier, Theodore Roosevelt struck an almost identical note: ". . . I believe in power; but I believe that responsibility should go with power. . . ."
John F. Kennedy famously said "to whom much is given, much is required." Even in Spider-Man, Peter Parker's uncle Ben memorably uttered these last words: "With great power comes great responsibility." Kennedy's and uncle Ben's thoughts weren't original. They were just a contemporary retelling of what Jesus Christ says in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 12, verse 48: "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required; and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask more."
Should this particular Supreme Court justice really be treated exactly the same as a municipal judge? Of course not. Ziegler not only is a member of the state's highest court but also is like no other judge in that she is the first state Supreme Court justice in Wisconsin's long history to face disciplinary action for judicial misconduct. If punished, she will stand alone in wearing that badge of dishonor.
Because her case is unique, so should her punishment be. And because she is one to whom so much more has been given, much more should be required.
A reprimand won't do. At least a suspension is in order.