On Thursday the Wisconsin Supreme Court is again going to consider whether to finalize new rules allowing judges to rule on cases involving their biggest campaign supporters. Last fall, four of the court's seven members approved recusal rules written by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Wisconsin Realtors Association. About six weeks later Justice David Prosser withdrew his support, causing the new rules to be temporarily suspended.
Prosser said at the time he still supported the thrust of the rules but believed the language needed some revision. I said at the time that it looked like he was trying to figure out a way to remove the lobbying groups' fingerprints and make it look like the court did its own writing.
Justice Prosser has now submitted his proposed changes. There is no practical difference between Prosser's rules and those written by WMC and the Realtors. Both clearly allow all state judges to rule on cases even when their biggest campaign supporters are involved.
Not only is what the court majority appears poised to do Thursday wrong on its face, but it also runs contrary to a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. In that case, the nation's high court ruled that a member of the West Virginia Supreme Court violated the constitutionally protected right to due process and denied one side a fair trial by judging the case despite having received $3 million in campaign support from the other side.
Justice Prosser and his three allies on the court on this issue (Michael Gableman, Annette Ziegler and Patience Roggensack) appear to be fixing to ignore that ruling, ignore due process concerns and cement in place an ethics rule proclaiming that judges are free to rule on disputes no matter how much campaign help one side has given them.
If that happens, it will be a sad, sad day for our state court system and a telling commentary on just how compromised the majority of our state's highest ranking judges really are.