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Annette Ziegler And Justice In Wisconsin

April 30, 2007

Wisconsin’s justice system is experiencing some problems that have created anxiety about fairness and balance in the courts. Plenty of headlines have popped up recently over the Wisconsin State Supreme Court being pulled ever deeper into the past ethical quicksand of Annette Ziegler, the newly elected justice on the Supreme Court.  No citizen can say they were not warned that this would result if she were elected in April.  The voters in large part allowed the power of expensive 30-second TV ads to prevail over the quiet reasoned voices of major newspapers that seriously rejected her practices while she served as a circuit judge.  They argued strongly that the ethical boundaries Ziegler crossed made her a poor choice for the Supreme Court.  In spite of those warnings, and in light of her election, her past actions as a circuit judge must now be addressed in a very public manner.

The fact that Wisconsin is now needing to deal with Ziegler’s ethical lapses will not be pretty to witness, and it will surely be antagonistic, but it is imperative that we as a state get the deliberations about her past conflicts right.  The highest moral obligation we now have with this matter is to preserve, as best we can, the high ideals of what a fair and objective rendering of justice in Wisconsin should include.  The codes of conduct for a judge are clear, and the consequences for abusing them are serious.  They must not be watered down and diluted just because we are dealing with a newly elected member to the Supreme Court.  It would be a most grievous shortcoming if we failed to honestly confront the damage that has come to light over Ziegler’s actions on the lower court. But to get back the faith that was lost as the result of Ziegler’s actions the key individuals must play a constructive role in the weeks to come.

For starters,  Ziegler needs to end her campaign mode of dodging and equivocating over her past mistakes.  Some serious candor from her is essential if we are to get over this issue and rebuild trust in the justice system.  She should reject the idea of fighting with the Ethics Board over their understanding of having grounds to both file a complaint and levy sanctions over her actions.  Her ethical lapses brought her to this point, but a heavy dose of honesty can start the rebuilding process that many citizens need, and expect, to hear.  Ziegler is making the situation more combative by digging deeper trenches, and fighting the Ethics Board issue by asking the Supreme Court to wade into the muck.  Instead of obfuscating, Ziegler needs to ante up by taking responsibility for her past actions.

The next players that need to show Wisconsin real leadership is outgoing Justice Jon Wilcox, and his court colleague, David Prosser.  Both of these men either endorsed or gave money to Ziegler after it became public that she had seriously abused her role as circuit judge.  Given that fact they both now need to make sure that all actions they take are in accordance with the law and the highest calling that voters placed on their shoulders when electing them to the bench.  They should refrain from any partisanship or backslapping when dealing with this matter.  In Prosser’s case, since he gave money to Ziegler there is the question of whether he should even participate in any of these discussions. This is one of those times when the tire has hit the road and the driver needs to show there is some experience behind the wheel.  Wisconsin will be watching.

There is no way that the Supreme Court will not ultimately have to deal with Ziegler, as the Judicial Commission will at some point file a complaint against her.  The number of instances where she failed to administer justice fairly as a circuit judge is a severe matter that will demand a response from the high court.  The Supreme Court is left the task of applying a remedy, and it will be hard for this body due to the nature of its close working relationship with each other.  Yet again, the citizens will demand that the only thing that matters is the serious nature of the ethical lapses, and the understanding that this is unacceptable in our justice system.  It will not be fun to administer, but the burden of creating not only a remedy, but also an action that speaks to the integrity of the judicial system, will rest with the high court.

The parties involved with this matter need to get the correct solution found as quickly as possible.  Given the nature of Ziegler’s ethical lapses, and how it was a large part of the spring election, the public has a right to the details.  More important they have a right to expect not only a response that will demonstrate the gravity of the matter, but also a strong signal that this type of activity is not acceptable in Wisconsin.

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  1. kay sieverding permalink
    May 7, 2007 11:16 PM

    In the conflicted cases, weren’t the defendants supposed to disclose all financially interested parties? At least with the banks, how could they have not known about the possible financial interest of the judge’s family–thus the defense counsel as officer’s of the court should have disclosed the conflict to the plaintiffs.

    I’ve been studying common law. The British library has the English translation of the Magna Carta. Their web site comments:

    “The scope for extortion and abuse in this system, if it were not benevolently applied, was obviously great and had been the subject of complaint long before King John came to the throne. Abuses were, moreover, aggravated by the difficulty of obtaining redress for them, and in Magna Carta the provision of the means for obtaining a fair hearing of complaints, not only against the king and his agents but against lesser feudal lords, achieves corresponding importance.”

    Their official translation from the Latin includes:

    We will appoint as justices, constables, sheriffs, or other officials, only men that know the law of the realm and are minded to keep it well.

    We will not seek to procure from anyone, either by our own efforts or those of a third party, anything by which any part of these concessions or liberties might be revoked or diminished.

    To me this says that judges can be regulated and must account as to whether they know and observe the law of the land.

    I don’t see how being a judge is a property right that is granted by election without a right belonging to the public to an evidentiary hearing as to whether the judge knows and observes the law of the land.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    May 1, 2007 10:10 AM

    We also need to consider that we have a constitutional right to equal treatment under the law (amendment 14) that was violated by Ziegler and any other judge that is violating the rules. The rules must be constitutional and everyone must be treated the same under them. That did not occur.

    This issue is far greater than many realize including the moronic statements made by Doug.

  3. April 30, 2007 8:05 PM

    Need I say more when Doug shows that conservatives only want to win and to hell with everything else. A sad place for Wisconsin. He makes my case.

  4. Doug permalink
    April 30, 2007 6:51 PM

    Fact is that Linda Clifford was an incompetent liberal puke. I don’t care WHAT Justice Ziegler did or didn’t do, WE WON, so get over it. Justice Ziegler is a strong anti abortion pro family judge.

  5. James permalink
    April 30, 2007 10:09 AM

    I have high hopes that what you write here will come true–that we will see a full and proper review of the case at hand. I am dubious, however. To initiate that review, it would take someone with real leadership skills and a bit of moxie to conduct a fair review and demand that justice be served. These judges, like all other politicians, are elected officials. When was the last time we saw a political figure with leadership skills? Was that Kennedy or do we have to go back as far as FDR? I fear the sad lot of characters that get elected these days will drop the ball on this as well… so far, we haven’t seen the leadership necessary even from this high court. What a pity!

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