Lawmaker Calls For Investigation Of Court Justice

The call is growing for investigations into Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman over free legal services he received from a prominent law firm.

On Tuesday, the government watchdog group the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign called for the state’s Judicial Commission to investigate whether Gableman violated ethics codes. Also on Tuesday, Democratic state Rep. Gary Hebl of Sun Prairie asked both the Judicial Commission and the Government Accountability Board to investigate if credible complaints are made.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported that Gableman received free legal services from Michael Best and Friedrich and that he cast deciding votes in two cases where parties were represented by that firm.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that one case allowed Gov. Scott Walker to implement a law that effectively ended collective bargaining rights for public workers.

Gableman was in the 4-3 majority that allowed Walker to prevail.

Michael Best and Friedrich defended Gableman in an ethics case. They worked for the state and Walker’s administration in the collective bargaining case.

Gableman also had the deciding vote in an opinion this March that sided with a firm’s client against Milwaukee over tax assessments.

A message left Tuesday at the Judicial Commission wasn’t returned. Gableman did not immediately return messages left for him with a spokesman for the Supreme Court.

Since the firm started representing Gableman in the ethics case in July 2008, Gableman has participated in nine cases in which the court voted on substantive issues involving Michael Best clients. Gableman ruled in those clients’ favor in five of those cases — more than any other justice.

In a 10th case, Gableman recused himself. In that matter, Michael Best itself was sued, making the firm a party to the case, rather than just a firm representing clients.

Rick Esenberg, president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative public interest law firm, said determining whether a judge must recuse after receiving legal service depends on several factors, including whether he had recused himself from some past cases, how long ago the law firm had represented him and what the work involved.

“That’s a judgment call,” Esenberg said.

But two well-known legal ethics experts contacted last week — New York University law professor Stephen Gillers and Indiana University law professor Charles Geyh — said they believed Gableman should not participate in cases involving Michael Best.