For Release: Thursday - March 9, 2017
Two 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 five 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.
Since that time, contribution limits to candidates have vastly increased and outside spending has risen exponentially. Public financing for state supreme court candidates who voluntarily agreed not to raise campaign contributions was repealed (in 2011) and now more money than ever before dictates the outcome of state supreme court elections and increasingly, elections for state court of appeals, circuit court and even municipal court.
What can citizens do?
For starters, learn about this issue and then contact the seven current members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and tell them that you believe they ought to adopt the threshold limits for recusal proposed by the 54 retired jurists. For state supreme court justices, the threshold amount is $10,000; for judges on the state court of appeals, $2,500; for circuit court judges, $1,000; and for municipal court judges, $500. These are reasonable and prudent thresholds.
On a related matter, Governor Scott Walker has proposed, in his 2017-19 budget proposal, eliminating the 40-year-old independent Judicial Commission and handing over its independent oversight and discipline functions to the State Supreme Court Justices themselves. This is a terrible idea that was thwarted two years ago when Walker first proposed it. This recent editorial from the Racine Journal Times makes the case as to why this proposal should never see the light of day.
Here is what you can do: contact both your State Senator and your State Representative and tell them you want this awful proposal removed from the state budget (where it really has no business being included for in the first place). Then, contact Governor Scott Walker and tell him the same thing:
Office of Governor Scott Walker
Madison, WI 53707
Make your voice heard! It's all you have and it's more powerful than you think. Utilize it!
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