Tuesday, March 6, 2007

State Supreme Court Candidate Could Face Harsher Row Than Campaign

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has weighed in with its own accounting - 24 - of the number of cases that Washington County Circuit Court Judge Annette Ziegler has heard since 2004 involving a West Bend bank on whose board her husband sits as a paid diector.

The bank won 21 of those case, a batting average of .875 - - not too shabby.

This follows earlier disclosures by progressive bloggers and websites, along with the Wisconsin State Journal, that Ziegler had a pattern of hearing these cases without the conflict-of-interest disclosure - - one report said as many as 45.

Failing to disclose a conflict of interest to the parties in a legal case places a judge's mandatory impartiality in doubt; Wisconsin judicial ethics and rules require the disclosure.

Here's how the Journal Sentinel story summed it up:

"Despite judicial rules that say judges must step aside in such matters, Ziegler has heard 24 cases since 2004 involving West Bend Savings Bank, where her husband, J.J. Ziegler, sits on the board of directors.

The state judicial ethics code says a judge must withdraw from a case if his or her spouse is a director of a business involved in a case."

It would not be surprising if state regulators at the Judicial Commission - - ironically, an arm of the Wisconsin Supreme Court - - were to open an investigation into Ziegler's conduct.

Or the losing parties in the cases where Ziegler ruled for the bank could appeal, or bring their own actions against her, and voters in Washington County could launch a recall.

Hardly the way to position yourself for a seat on the State Supreme Court; Ziegler's biggest challenge, though she won the February primary and is on the April 3rd statewide ballot for election to the state's highest court, now may be to hang on to her judgeship.

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