Not National News: 29 'Impartial' Wis. Judges Sign Scott Walker Recall Petitions

If Scott Walker somehow loses his recall election in Wisconsin, will that be national news? Of course it will.

Well, if the Walker recall really is a national story, why isn't it news that 29 judges who are supposed to be impartial in their rulings and who are under strict prohibitions against political activity were found by Gannett News to have signed petitions supporting Walker's recall -- including at least one who has ruled in a recall-related matter without bothering to disclose his action? Make such a story about Republican judges signing petitions to recall a Democratic governor, and it would be national news for sure. Here are several paragraphs from Eric Litke's report:


29 Wisconsin judges sign recall petitions

Twenty-nine Wisconsin circuit court judges were among the thousands to sign recall petitions against Gov. Scott Walker, a Gannett Wisconsin Media analysis has found.

Dane County Judge David Flanagan drew scrutiny after issuing a temporary restraining order March 6 against a Walker-backed voter ID law without disclosing his support of the recall, but the analysis shows that judges in 15 other counties also signed petitions, including Door County Circuit Judge D. Todd Ehlers.

Walker supporters were outraged that Flanagan did not disclose his apparent conflict and filed ethics complaints against the judge. However, judges who signed the petition and agreed to interviews defended their decision as constitutionally protected and not explicitly banned by the Wisconsin Code of Judicial Conduct.

Twelve percent of the state's approximately 250 county-level judges signed the petition.

... Janine Geske, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice and law professor at Marquette University, said she was surprised by the number of judges who signed the recall petitions.

"I believe the judges had the right to sign the petition, but it creates a problem with the appearance of impartiality if and when they may be called upon to decide any issues involving the governor or the Republican party," Geske said in an email.

... The state's Code of Judicial Conduct says judges cannot "participate in the affairs, caucuses, promotions, platforms, endorsements, conventions or activities of a political party, or of a candidate for partisan office."

... Jim Alexander, executive director of the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, which governs judicial conduct, said the code makes no specific reference to recall petitions. He said a "handful" of judges around the state contacted him for advice over the propriety of signing the recall.

Mark Levin mentioned this on his radio show last night, as of course he would, since his Landmark Legal Foundation has filed a complaint citing the Wisconsin Code of Judicial Conduct which the judges are using to excuse their behavior.

The Associated Press has decided that this is a local story nobody in the country could possibly care about, and which apparently only deserves five terse paragraphs. The New York Times hasn't covered it so far. A March 18-21 Google News search on "Wisconsin judges recall" (not in quotes; sorted by date) returns 36 items, the vast majority of which originate from Wisconsin outlets.

Some of the Wisconsin results are editorials registering objections. Here is the key paragraph from one of them in the Green Bay Press Gazette:

There are some professions that, by their nature, require impartiality. Our legal system is one of them. It might not seem fair that judges are obligated to maintain an unbiased reputation, but public confidence in their decisions require it. A signature on a highly charged political petition might call their judgment into question.

I'd replace the work "might" with "definitely does." We've got Mickey Mouse signing recall petitions and a representatives of the judicial system who don't seem to care than many of us fairly see them, at least in political matters, as running kangaroo courts.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.