Saturday, September 08, 2007

Justice Ziegler guilty.

Hi folks,

From The Badger Herald:

Commission calls for Ziegler to be reprimanded

by Jessi Polsky
Friday, September 7, 2007
The Wisconsin Judicial Commission filed a complaint Thursday formally reprimanding state Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler for misconduct involving a conflict of interest when she presided over cases involving her husband’s employer.


“I apologize for the unintentional error I made hearing cases where West Bend Savings Bank was a party in the matter,” Ziegler said in a statement released Thursday. “I have taken steps to make sure a similar mistake does not happen in the future, [and] I look forward to doing the work the people of Wisconsin elected me to do.”

What next now that her wrist has been ...?

I was going to say slapped, but this is more of a light tap than a slap...

From the Wisconsin State Journal

The Judicial Commission's complaint now goes to a three-judge panel to be appointed by Judge Richard S. Brown, the chief judge of the Court of Appeals. That panel will report its findings and recommend any discipline to the Supreme Court, which then will sit in judgment of its newest member.


In May, Ziegler also acknowledged violating Wisconsin's conflict-of-interest law by presiding over cases involving West Bend Savings. She agreed to pay a $5,000 fine and an estimated $12,000 in costs to the Wisconsin Ethics Board.

I wonder now whether Ms. Ziegler would have won this election had she been honest about her ethical failure in these cases. Probably not.

I wonder whether she would have run those howling-at-the-moon commercials portraying her as the victim of a mudslinging and ghoulish Linda Clifford who -- it now turns out -- was merely citing the ethical lapses for which Judge Ziegler was found guilty for which she was fined $20,000. Probably not.

I also wonder whether anyone will trust her when she checks her gut while sitting on our highest court? We'll see.

Maybe I've taken this whole thing too seriously. After all, ethical lapses in our elected officials aren't impeachable offenses or anything -- well, not any more.

And so it goes.


Anonymous said...

This is one time that I disagree with you, Mark. I watched the West Bend debate between the two, and I found Clifford repellent. If she came across like that in her other appearances, then it's no wonder she lost. It was fine for her to bring up the ethics issue... once... but she did it over and over again, at times when it wasn't in the context of the issue being discussed. Ziegler has been improperly labeled by both sides as a conservative, and Left & Right have followed that drumbeat. She may have been conservative in that she did not agree with Clifford (and Abrahamson & Butler) in their rejection of "lockstepping" with decisions of the SCOTUS, but she's hardly in the mold of Bork, Scalia, Thomas, etc. She was a good judge, and she's a compassionate person.

Mpeterson said...

I said it in the very first note on this topic -- everyone I know who knows Annette Ziegler agrees with you. I hear again and again that she's a girlscout.

I actually liked Linda Clifford's spunk and her background would have made her an interesting addition to our supreme court... although I also talked to plenty of lawyers who'd worked with and against her who didn't like her much. The law is funny that way.

So there were other reasons to vote against Ms. Clifford.

I'm also content that the political labeling happened very quickly -- but the first politicizing salvos were fired by the Wisconsin Manufacturers on behalf of Ms. Ziegler. Politics is funny that way too.

Those over the top Halloween commercials characterizing Clifford as a mudslinger for simply pointing out what Ms. Ziegler has finally admitted -- and paid a hefty fine for -- embodied the sort of political tactics I thought we'd had the luxury to avoid. I was clearly wrong about that -- but I'll remember the lesson. :^)

Please don't mistake my strict constructionist, slightly black letter approach to all of this as naivete'. I've taught legal ethics. I understand the difference between neat theories and the muddy reality of praxis. Ms. Ziegler either arrogantly placed her person above the condition that she be seen to be equitable (eg. Caesar's wife) or -- what I think is more likely based on everything my frieds have told me -- she was simply careless in ways I think are unbefitting a supreme court justice.

You don't rule against people on behalf of a company your spouse works for... even if your ruling is correct (which I'm sure these were) are those people going to believe you were being fair? Nope. Thus the function of ethical guidelines. They protect everyone.

Anyway, it's all water over the dam. The case is still in process and we'll see how the rest of the court now acts upon this finding.


Anonymous said...

Your very kind to say she was only careless. Lets see, numerous cases were all sent to her and she didn't reveal or recuse herself from one of them. Oh, how careless!

As an ethics teacher you would know that this is common stuff. She broke very important rules that deserves very important punishment.

I'll assume this (the recommended punishment) would naw at people like you because it goes against everything you tried to teach people. Perhaps we could use some ethics teachers on the Judicial Comission.

Mpeterson said...

I was indeed being kind. I would have removed her from the bench and fined her an amount equal to her share in the economic interests that compromised her rulings.

Grin, but it seems incredibly unlikely any government would ever allow philosophers into positions like that. Business and government prefer the predictability of law and money over the more difficult tasks of justice. :^)