Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Wisconsinites Overwhelmingly Support Greater Judicial Transparency and Recusal

For Release: Tuesday - October 31, 2017

Public Hearings & Recent Polling Demonstrate
WI Supreme Court Majority is Badly Out of Touch

Common Cause in Wisconsin spent much of the month of October conducting three public hearings around Wisconsin on the subject of judicial recusal. We organized these public events after the Wisconsin Supreme Court, last April, voted 5 to 2 to reject a petition proposing stronger recusal rules for Wisconsin judges at all levels, submitted to the Court last January from 54 retired jurists, including two former state supreme court justices. The same five justices who voted to reject the petition, also voted against even holding a public hearing on the issue – which has become increasingly important in recent years.

At out final public hearing on judicial recusal, held on October 24th in Madison, more than 150 citizens attended a packed, "standing room only" event, with hundreds more viewing the live stream video online. Wisconsin Eye also video-taped and recorded the event, which you can view here.

Our thanks to Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, former Dane County Circuit Court Judge, and former Chair of the now-dissolved Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, Gerald Nichol and League of Women Voters of Wisconsin executive director Andrea Kaminski, who all joined CC/WI Director Jay Heck as panelists at the hearing. And thanks to the dozens of citizens, including many former judges, who testified before the panel or asked excellent questions.

Earlier in October, we had terrific audiences and public participation at our public hearing in Green Bay on October 2nd at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and on October 11th at our public hearing at the Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee. Thanks to the excellent panelists and citizens who attended and participated in those events. You can access the Facebook video of the Green Bay hearing here and the Milwaukee hearing here.

Also during October, Public Policy Polling of Raleigh, NC conducted a poll of 1,116 Wisconsin voters that included two questions on judicial transparency and recusal. The results demonstrate how overwhelmingly Wisconsinites favor stronger judicial transparency and recusal rules. Here are the questions from the polls and the results:
Question: I am going to list some proposals people have made regarding strengthening State Supreme Courts and state judicial systems. For each one, please say whether you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose it. Here’s the first one: The public has a right to know exactly which people, organizations, and businesses give money to judges’ elections and what a judge’s financial ties are. For transparency and accountability, states should require strict and prompt reporting of all campaign contributions and spending before Election Day, so the public can know which special interests are trying to influence the election and future court decisions. Do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose this proposal?

Strongly favor 65%
Somewhat favor 17%
Somewhat oppose 8%
Strongly oppose 2%
Not sure 8%

Here’s the next question: Judges should not be the ones to decide whether or not they have a conflict of interest in a particular case. Instead, states should adopt clear and strong ethics rules and standards for when a judge must step aside, for example, if the judge has a business or financial interest in the outcome of the case, or if anyone involved in the case gave money to the judge’s election campaign. Do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose this proposal?

Strongly favor 59%
Somewhat favor 23%
Somewhat oppose 8%
Strongly oppose 4%
Not sure 6%
The answers to these two questions show that 82 percent of Wisconsinites strongly or somewhat favor greater disclosure of campaign contributions and spending in judicial elections, while just 10 percent strongly or somewhat oppose greater disclosure. Similarly, 82 percent of Wisconsin strongly or somewhat favor the adoption of strong recusal rules for judges while only 12 percent somewhat or strongly oppose them.

The poll results and the testimony from panelists and citizens at CC/WI's three October public hearings demonstrate beyond dispute, that the Wisconsin Supreme Court's 5 to 2 vote and decision last April to reject considering the adoption of strong judicial recusal rules was misguided, massively out of line with the public's opinion on the matter, and just plain wrong. It is an issue that must be kept front and center during the upcoming April, 2018 election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court and beyond – until the Court does the right thing on this issue and adopts strong recusal rules.

Thanks everyone, for helping CC/WI to elevate this issue and in making your voices heard. With your help, we will keep this issue at the forefront.

Incidentally, Happy Halloween!


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

Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI  53703

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