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Justice Ziegler Has No Ethics In The Courtroom

November 28, 2007

This says it all.

Within the last couple of weeks, however, Ziegler sent a letter to the parties in another case, a sales tax case, notifying them that she would hear the case and participate in the decision even though one of the organizations involved, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, spent a reported $2 million to help her get elected — more than her own campaign spent.

State judicial standards say judges must disqualify themselves if a reasonable person would question their impartiality or if they have a significant financial interest in a case. It also encourages judges to remove themselves from cases in which family members are officers, directors or trustees of one party.

Two million dollars adds up to a very large question about impartiality. When the initial cases came to public notice in the spring we wrote that at the very least Ziegler was guilty of bad judgment, but this latest act elevates the matter beyond poor judgment. The fact that Ziegler apparently sees no problem is an indication that she does not understand the ethical principles by which she is expected to act.

None of the parties in the sales tax case, including the state Attorney General, has asked Ziegler to recuse herself, nor should they have to. Ethics are not principles to be imposed from outside. They are internal standards by which we are expected to govern ourselves, and it is precisely because some people don’t have such internal standards that we have lawyers, courts, and jails.

One may argue that this case will put the Supreme Court in a difficult position. As the state’s legal disciplinary body it is her fellow justices who will decide Ziegler’s fate. In fact there is no difficulty. Although the court can only rule on the evidence before it, which won’t include the latest matter, the justices should not disregard this $2 million letter and should not hesitate to severely punish Ziegler if they chose not to remove her from the bench.

There really is no excuse for such a flagrant disregard of the rules. Mild punishment would only support a stereotype of the courts as a club whose members sit somewhere above the masses, and it suggests that justice is awarded to the highest bidder.

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