Sunday, November 9, 2008

In Re: Gableman

Certainly Barack Obama is the big story, followed by any number of intriguing plot lines, both nationally and in Wisconsin.

There's a Democratic majority in the state legislature, and suddenly, numerous issues are available for new thinking, both fiscally and strategically.

But let's not forget one matter hanging over the state's political environment: the pending State Judicial Commission ethics complaint against State Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman.

It's an extremely serious matter, as it is alleged that Gableman did something which a judge (during the spring campaign he was a circuit judge in Burnett County} simply cannot do, or have on his resume as as a member of the State Supreme Court: be willfully misleading.

Some background here.

It's a contradiction that could deeply impair the state justice system, and which has already been a body blow to a State Supreme Court already embarrassed by recent, separate ethics matters.

Gableman is accused of approving a campaign TV ad broadcast statewide that suggested opponent Louis Butler had helped free a sexual assault defendant who then committed another sex crime.

In fact, Butler had, as a public defender, argued that a client should get a new trial, but the argument was rejected, the client remained incarcerated, and years late, following parole, did commit another sex crime.

The election was close, the ad became instantly controversial, and may have played a role in tipping the outcome to Gableman.

If Gableman is found to have approved an ad that was false, or willfully misleading, the Court's disciplinary processes will have to determine an appropriate sanction.

It issued a reprimand against Justice Annette Ziegler for ethical lapses regarding financial conflicts-of-interest related to cases she heard in a lower court

Gableman's problems could turn out to be far more serious, with consequences both for Gableman and campaign financing procedures that give candidates access to funding that fuels television advertising.

Post-election stories about the state legislature and the budget are sure to be major 2009 stories, and, of course, so would the fallout should Gov. Jim Doyle or Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett accept positions in the Obama administration.

Gableman has indicated that he plans a First Amendment defense. Successful, or not, the state supreme court and Wisconsin's political reputations will suffer great harm.

So regardless of the rest of political news in 2009, the wheels of justice in motion in re Gableman could make it the biggest story of the coming year.

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