Monday, April 10, 2017

Wisconsin Supreme Court Should Adopt Strong Recusal Rule Proposed by Former Jurists



For Release: Thursday - April 10, 2017


On April 20th, the Wisconsin Supreme Court may consider, in open conference, a petition submitted three months ago, in January, 54 retired judges – including two former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices – unveiled a strong proposal that would establish reasonable thresholds for recusal for elected municipal court judges, circuit court judges, state court of appeals judges and state supreme court justices in cases where they received campaign contributions from a defendant or plaintiff appearing before them. The full petition from the retired jurists is here.

Wisconsinites would be surprised to know that our state is considered among the four worst states in the nation with regard to recusal standards for campaign contributions. In fact we have none – and the current state recusal "standard" was written by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, one of the state's most powerful special interest groups that has spent millions of dollars over the years to elect conservative state supreme court justices. It was adopted verbatim by a 4 to 3 vote, seven years ago.

Below is the letter we sent last week to the Wisconsin Supreme Court on this critical matter:





April 5, 2017

The Honorable Patience D. Roggensack
Chief Justice
Wisconsin Supreme Court
P.O. Box 1688 Madison, WI 53701-1688

Dear Chief Justice Roggensack,

On behalf of the State Governing Board and the more than 12,000 members and activists of Common Cause in Wisconsin, we respectfully request that the Wisconsin Supreme Court consider and adopt Rule Petition 17-01 on recusal, submitted to you in January by 54 retired jurists, including two former members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Rule Petition 17-01 requests that the Court amend the Code of Judicial Conduct to establish an objective standard for requiring recusal or disqualification of a municipal court judge, circuit court judge, state court of appeals judge, or a Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice who has received campaign contributions from a party or lawyer. It further supports amending the Wisconsin Constitution so that the Supreme Court can maintain a quorum in the event of such a recusal, as lower courts routinely do now.

We believe that a failure to adopt sensible, reasonable recusal rules, such as those laid out in Rule Petition 17-01, put the integrity and reputation of all Wisconsin Courts at greater risk than they suffer currently, resulting in the further erosion of public confidence in the impartiality and fairness of judges at all levels and, in particular in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

As the retired jurists noted in their statement of purpose, “As money becomes more predominant, citizens rightfully ask whether justice is for sale. The appearance of partiality that large donations cause strikes at the heart of the judicial function, which depends on the public’s respect for its judgments.”

Public opinion polling in Wisconsin over the last half decade suggests that the public’s respect for the judiciary has never been lower.

The problem stems, in part, to the failure in 2009 of a majority of this Court to adopt a proposal, put forth by Justice N. Patrick Crooks, to require recusal if a justice had received substantial election support from one of the parties in the case. This error was compounded in 2010 by the adoption by a majority of the Court of essentially, a non-recusal rule written and accepted, apparently verbatim, from two of the state’s largest business organizations, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Wisconsin Realtors Association.

As a result of these two actions and because of the failure of the Wisconsin Supreme Court to adopt a strong recusal rule at the explicit invitation of the Supreme Court of the United States in the wake of its landmark 2009 Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Company decision, our state currently ranks 47th of the 50 states in terms of the strength of its recusal rules according to a survey cited by the retired Wisconsin jurists in Rule Petition 17-01. That is simply shocking and unacceptable.

Further, strong recusal rules are even more necessary in the aftermath of the Court’s 2015 decision to strike down Wisconsin law that had prohibited campaign coordination between candidate campaigns with outside special interest groups who spend vast sums of money engaging in non-express advocacy or phony issue advocacy, with a clear intent to influence the outcome of elections.

This controversial decision exceeded even the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United v. F.E.C. decision in allowing coordination between so-called issue ad groups and candidates. Citizens United prohibited this type of coordination. The fact that the four Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices who voted in 2015 to decriminalize this kind of coordination, had themselves been supported by one or more of the organizations engaging in that coordination during the 2011-2011 recall elections, further underscores the urgent need for strong recusal standards and rules.

The most recent contested Wisconsin Supreme Court election in 2016 further illustrates the growing need for recusal rules. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, “issue ad” groups spent more than $2.25 million attempting to influence the outcome of the election while the two candidates themselves spent a combined total of $777,440 – about one third as much as the outside spending. And yet one of those outside groups could conceivably appear as a party to a case that came before the Court and the justice who benefited by the election spending of that group would not be required to recuse herself under current law.

That is simply a standard that invites even deeper cynicism and distrust on the part of citizens of all political and philosophical persuasions in the ability of this state’s highest court to be able to render justice fairly and impartially.

You, and the other six justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court have it within your power to restore a modicum of citizen confidence and trust in not only the state’s highest court, but in state courts of all levels by adopting the thresholds recommended by the distinguished group of 54 retired jurists in Rule Petition 17-01.

We respectfully urge that you seize this opportunity to do so.

Sincerely,


Jay Heck
Executive Director




CONTACT:

Jay Heck
608/256-2686 (office)
608/512-9363 (cell)




Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI  53703
608/256-2686

Want Good Government?
Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!
www.CommonCauseWisconsin.org



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Monday, April 3, 2017

Make Sure You Are Ready to Vote on Tuesday, April 4th!



For Release: Monday - April 3, 2017


Polls Open Tomorrow from 7am to 8pm

A Spring election may not seem like a big deal, but make no mistake – every election matters.

Tomorrow we choose Wisconsin's Superintendent of Public Instruction, the person who will determine what our state's educational landscape will look like for the next four years.

Let that sink in.

We'll also cast a vote for a Supreme Court Justice, Court of Appeals Judge (in Districts 1, 2, and 4) and various members of our local governments.

Do NOT sit this election out. Make sure you are ready NOW to go to the polls tomorrow.

First, look over the IDs pictured left to ensure you have a photo ID that can be used for voting.

(Click to enlarge image)

If you already have a Wisconsin driver license or one of the other acceptable forms of ID for voting, then you're "ID ready." Just remember to bring it with you when you head to your polling place!

What if you don't have an acceptable ID for voting on Election Day?

You can ask for AND vote with a provisional ballot. But, for your ballot to be counted, you MUST either come back to your polling place with an acceptable form of ID before it closes at 8:00 pm tomorrow OR bring your ID to your municipal clerk's office by 4:00 pm the Friday after the election (April 7th).

For more on getting a free ID for voting, see our voter ID fact sheet or visit Bring It to the Ballot.

Are you a college student planning to use your student ID for voting?

If you do not have one of the other forms of photo ID pictured above, and you are a college student hoping to use your student ID and a proof of enrollment document as your "voter ID," look up your school NOW on the appropriate list linked below to see if your current student ID is an acceptable form of ID for voting. If your student ID cannot be used for voting, you can find out if a separate school-issued "voter photo ID" is available and how to get one.

  University of Wisconsin – 4-Year Schools
  University of Wisconsin – 2-Year Schools
  Wisconsin Private Universities & Colleges
  Wisconsin Technical Colleges


Are you registered to vote?

Before you head out to the polls, check to see that you are registered to vote at your current address. If you are not, be sure to bring a proof of residence document (hard copy or electronic on your cell phone or tablet) when you go to the polls on Tuesday so that you can register there.

Where is your polling place?

To find out where to go to cast your ballot, visit the "Find My Polling Place" page on the Wisconsin Election Commission's My Vote Wisconsin website and type in your address.

What's on your ballot?

Visit the Wisconsin Election Commission's "What's on My Ballot" page and type in your address to see a sample ballot.

Remember – EVERY election is important. Make your voice heard tomorrow!




Contact:


Sandra Miller
Director of Information Services & Outreach
608/658-2109
smiller@commoncause.org

Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI 53703
608/256-2686

Want Good Government?
Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!
www.CommonCauseWisconsin.org



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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Legislation Posing a Threat to the U.S. Constitution Gets a Public Hearing in the Capitol Today



For Release: Tuesday - March 28, 2017


Today in the Capitol, there will be a joint State Senate - Assembly Committee Hearing for several misguided resolutions calling for what is called an "Article V Convention of the States" for the stated purpose of adding a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

A convention like this has never been called and assembled before in our nation's history and it could be a very destructive and dangerous event. A convention of this type could go well beyond a balanced budget measure and go on to alter or eliminate citizen rights currently protected by the Constitution. Voting rights, civil rights, women's rights. The possibilities are endless.

Wisconsin could become the 29th or 30th out of 34 states needed to call for a convention if these measures clear the Legislature.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published this excellent editorial Saturday denouncing this dangerous proposal. The Journal Sentinel also published this informative guest editorial written by national Common Cause President, Karen Hobert Flynn.

Common Cause in Wisconsin's testimony against this proposal is here.

What citizens can and must do: Contact both your State Senator and your State Representative and tell them to oppose the call for a dangerous, Article V Constitutional Convention! If you are not sure who your state legislators are, go here.

Never surrender. Never give in. Forward!





CONTACT:

Jay Heck
608/256-2686 (office)
608/512-9363 (cell)




Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI  53703
608/256-2686

Want Good Government?
Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!
www.CommonCauseWisconsin.org



Read More...