Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Journal Sentinel editorial board botches Court recusal argument

[Updated, 11:48 a.m.] The Journal Sentinel editorial board argues there is nothing positive to be gained by recusals over potential conflicts-of-interest facing the State Supreme Court majority which has accepted millions of dollars in campaign contributions from some of the same groups whose donations routed to the 2012 Walker recall campaign are at the heart of the John Doe probe case into potentially illegal campaigning that is heading for State Supreme Court consideration:
For better or worse, this is the court Wisconsin has, and this court needs to decide cases, including these. Recusals could paralyze it.
I disagree. When did it become OK for justice to lose that blindfold?

Let the majority be pressured to acknowledge their conflicts-of-interest - - including the fact that some of the big-dollar conservative groups also wrote the 'no-recusal' code of conduct which gives the Justices an out - - but which the newspaper did not add to its list of ethical problems facing the Court.

Let the Justices and their backers and donors and enablers stew in it.

And if the court majority won't budge, if it takes the case, the newspaper should loudly demand the majority's recusal or their resignations.

We'd expect no less from the majority on a local village board of trustees about to going to vote on a controversial development after having taken huge amounts of money from the developer for their winning campaigns.

No one would say that level of failed impartiality was fair or smart or ethical or right or protective of the larger public interest. 

And we would expect the newspaper to condemn, not excuse or rationalize it.

"For better or worse?" Come on.

The newspaper a few days ago said the appearance of a conflict of interest in a case handled by the office of Jefferson County DA Susan Happ, and widely politicized by her GOP opponents as she runs for Attorney General, was a problem that Happ should have avoided by deferring to an outside prosecutor.

So recusal/withdrawal is the prescribed solution for Happ, but not for the hapless majority on the State Supreme Court - - our most senior arbiters - - in what is arguably is its biggest case in years, decades, maybe?

The same court which the newspaper's editorial says "faces serious conflicts of its own."

Are the standards of fair review recommended by the newspaper so flexible, so inconsistent? A line is drawn in Jefferson County but not across the Capitol on behalf of the entire state?

Let the majority of the justices take the heat for what ever angst or paralysis or embarrassment or vilification from voters which might come in the wake of refusals, or their recusals - - which would not be fatal to the case.

A conflicted state supreme court can decline to make the ruling and let an appeals court make the final ruling by declining to accept the case, since that's where the it sits now.

Let the citizens of the state watch the charade play out. Let everyone see the power of special interest money. Let a disgusted electorate take note and take charge - - and let the state's largest newspapers help set the tone as part of their traditional mission to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.

The State Supreme Court majority put itself in this position by a) taking the big bucks, b) letting the fox dictate the rules in the hen house, c) and behaving like an automatic arm of the Walker campaign and GOP machine when reflexively approving Act 10 and voter ID - - thus making the John Doe decision look like a done-deal for Walker and the donors which they and the Governor share.

A done deal that could further do in the Court's standing and state's reputation.

The Journal Sentinel should argue first for transparent judicial ethics and simple, unequivocal fairness, and not spend its time on arguments that help justices off the petard of their own injudicious choosing.

The court's majority took all the chips that came its way, so let them fall where they may.


Jake formerly of the LP said...

Makes me wonder if J-S employees are going to be named in the John Doe once the criminal complaints are made public.

The Supreme Court cannot rule on this case due to the fact that Club for Growth helped buy a majority of those seats. PERIOD.

Anonymous said...

How the Journal Sentinel can consider it justice to let the four justices who make up the majority of the Court sit in judgment of the organizations that funded their election campaigns goes beyond the boundaries of commonsense. Justice is supposed to be blind but these four have proven time and again that their vision is not only fine but biased. To argue that this is the best we've got so let's go with it until we can change the system is bogus as this will just paint the decision as corrupt and further the system rather than change it . The prudent answer is to not hear the case and turn it back to the lower courts for final decisions. I can't believe that the Capitol will not once again be awash with protests if these four Justices attempt to participate in this case!

Gareth said...

I imagine the Journal-Sentinel would feel differently on the issue of recusal if they were being sued and the presiding judge had received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the plaintiff. Just a guess.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I found the Journal Sentinel editorial to be very disappointing. It's as if the paper is afraid to alienate some of its readers, so it tiptoes around.

I don't think the judges who received the large sums of money will be impartial. And if they could possibly be impartial, any decisions they make that support Walker and themselves will forever appear tainted. They should do the right thing and recuse themselves.

Anonymous said...

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. What a ridiculous argument by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board: "For better or worse, this is the court Wisconsin has, and this court needs to decide cases, including these. Recusals could paralyze it." What's worse -- a paralyzed court or a corrupt one? I'll take the former - a least it would bring attention to the reasons for the recusals. Rather than encouraging us to "accept what we've got", MJS should be underscoring the corrupting influence of big money in campaigns as it appears that the same groups who bought Scott Walker also bought the majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. That the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel doesn't see an issue with that is astounding. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: who's side are you on -- the truth and the citizens of Wisconsin, or corrupting influences?

Jake formerly of the LP said...

"What's worse --- a paralyzed court, or a corrupt one?" Well stated, and apparently the J-S chooses "corrupt." Probably because they benefit from the corruption with campaign $$$ and access.

Between this and their treatment of WPRI's absurd report as legitimate, along with their willful relaying of GOP-aganda, this newspaper has ceased to be a watchdog for the public. Don't give them a DIME

Anonymous said...

Does anyone ever obtain radio interviews with the justices?

Are they ever asked to explain themselves?

What if someone like Bill Moyers asked to interview one or more of them, for TV?

It would be so good if this story could make a big splash on national news. I used to like the PBS News Hour, but then I got disgusted with them when I saw them propping up Walker during the recall.

What about MSNBC? Would they pick up this story?

What about periodicals, like "The New Yorker"?

What about that group "Anonymous"? It seemed like they helped keep voting machines honest in Ohio, much to Karl Rove's surprise.