Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Beginning Of Vending Machine Justice

State Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler is fixing to judge a tax case involving Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which spent an estimated $2.2 million to get her elected, considerably more than the record-setting amount Ziegler spent on her own campaign. Oral arguments on the case are scheduled for tomorrow.

Because of her ethics problems, Ziegler has taken to notifying all sides in cases before the high court of economic ties she has or any campaign support she received from any of the parties involved in a case. Ziegler also has been asking lawyers in the cases for feedback about whether she should recuse herself from the proceedings. She dropped out of one recent case after an attorney raised objections to a campaign contribution she received.

Ziegler is handling this tax case a bit differently. She informed all of the involved parties of the fact that WMC spent heavily on her behalf but did not invite feedback on whether she should remove herself from the case. Instead, she notified the attorneys she intends to participate in hearing and ruling on the dispute over whether companies should have to pay sales tax on computer software they buy.

Here's where it gets interesting. If someone were to ask Ziegler to step aside it would be Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who represents the state Department of Revenue in this case. It so happens WMC spent $2.5 million to get Van Hollen elected in 2006. If Van Hollen were to ask Ziegler to recuse herself, as he clearly should, that would beg the question of whether Van Hollen should prosecute the case for the state. That question should be asked regardless of what Van Hollen says to Ziegler.

The outcome of this case has huge implications. If the state loses, it could be forced to refund an estimated $350 million in taxes collected from businesses. But the implications for the integrity of our justice system and public confidence in the fairness and impartiality of Wisconsin's highest court are even more serious. This case is providing an initial glimpse into what happens when our courts are politicized by campaigns for Supreme Court that are allowed to degenerate into such tawdry and money-saturated affairs.

Wisconsin's court system has a big problem. This one case is showing just how big.


Anonymous said...

This is a stupid law suit in the first place. It's just another example of the State of Wisconsin trying to take more tax money that they don't deserve. Nobody spends 3.5 mil on SAP software and uses it as it comes out of the box. If Menasha Corp had paid someone from SAP, probably someone from outside of Wisconsin, to modify the software the lawsuit would never have been brought. Why should they be penalized for using their own employees to do the job?

As far as Judge Ziegler, I believe you are barking up the wrong tree. As the Journal Sentinel story points out, Judge Ziegler has notified the parties to the law suit that she was supported by the WMC. Apparently it is up to these parties to ask her to step down. So far no one has. So far Judge Ziegler has done everything according to the law.

Rather than follow thru with your diatribe against Ziegler you should be asking why Van Hollen hasn't asked her to withdraw.

Chippewa Falls

Mike McCabe said...

The blog does ask why Van Hollen hasn't asked Ziegler to withdraw, and suggests there are 2.5 million reasons why he might be reluctant to do so.

How this tax case should be decided isn't the issue being raised here. It's whether the public can have any confidence that the case will be decided on the merits of the legal arguments and in keeping with the rule of law.

Anonymous said...


Following your analogy, Van Hollen has 350 million reasons why he should ask Judge Ziegler to recuse herself. In your original blog Van Hollen was mentioned 3 times, Judge Ziegler 8 times.

You must be a product of the new "fuzzy math" system where the correct answer involves how the student feels about the answer. My math tells me that 350 million is greater than 2.5 million. So why are you so focused on 2.5 mill?

I believe the issue is Van Hollen, not Judge Ziegler. If you had directed your blog towards him, rather than the Judge, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

Chippewa Falls

Mike McCabe said...


WMC spent $2.5 million to get Van Hollen elected and $2.2 million for Ziegler. That's what I was referring to when I said Van Hollen has 2.5 million reasons not to ask Ziegler to step aside in this case because of what WMC spent to get her elected. There was no math involved at all.

Van Hollen is the focal point of today's story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.