Friday, December 23, 2011

Gableman's ethics put into question collective bargaining ruling

Legal questions abound amid allegations of justice's wrongdoing

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman isn't known to be a particularly professional person, especially when it comes to the title he holds. So it isn't surprising when Gableman was slapped with an ethics complaint earlier this year, forced to defend his actions while serving the state of Wisconsin.

What was surprising was that, during the defense of his ethics investigation, Gableman's lawyers waived all legal fees for their client, itself an act of unethical behavior. Sitting justices of the court aren't allowed to receive gifts of this kind as they can be perceived as conflicts of interest later on down the road.

As it happens, Gableman's actions (in accepting the gift) have put into question one of the most important and contentious rulings rendered by the court this year.

When the law to strip state workers of their bargaining rights was passed this year through nefarious means -- being rushed through the legislature in violation of state open meetings laws -- it went to the courts to decide if such violations warranted blockage of the law itself. Judge Maryann Sumi, a Republican-appointed judge, found that rules were indeed broken, and as such the law deserved to be voided.

But the State Supreme Court reversed that decision, dangerously finding that when rules placed on the legislature are violated it's up to either house of the legislature (not the courts) to determine what course of action should be taken to remedy (or not) violations of conduct, essentially allowing them to police themselves on such matters.

The decision of the court was a slim majority, of which Gableman was one of the deciding votes, capable of tilting the verdict either way.

In light of his unethical behavior, Gableman's decision-making process is questionable by any rational-thinking citizen of this state. Yet, this matter is further complicated by the fact that the law firm representing the side that won the collective bargaining/open meetings decision was the very same law firm that provided free legal services to Justice Gableman during his ethics investigation.

The legal questions that abound by this situation provide stimulating discussion, to say the least. Do Gableman's actions indicate a violation of conduct? Does such a conflict of interest render any decision Gableman made as voidable, at least when it comes to decisions where this law firm was involved? And finally, if Gableman's actions do indeed leave specific decisions as questionable, would that be grounds to reverse any judgments made by the court where he may have held the deciding vote?

These are questions that are currently running through the mind of Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, who is considering seeking legal action against the ruling rendered on the collective bargaining issue under such circumstances.

Whether this results in his taking action or not, we can be sure of one fact: the actions of some conservative members of the state's Supreme Court are unbecoming of the offices they occupy. And they're doing a disservice to the people of Wisconsin.

1 comment:

  1. When Gableman ran for the judgeship, he displayed little in the way of ethics, or in knowledge of what it takes to make impartial judicial decisions, but did show that he had no problem with the WMC spending millions in support of his campaign.