January 3, 2008

A Blip Worthy of Punishment

Today the Judicial Conduct Panel that heard the conflict of interest case against Justice Annette Ziegler recommended that she receive a public reprimand. That is the punishment that Ziegler and the Wisconsin Judicial Commission agreed on and is unfortunately the very least that they could do. The ultimate decision will be up to the other Justices as they will be put in the awkward position of handing out punishment to one of their own.

Annette Ziegler’s violations were not a one time mistake but were repeated over the course of several years.Today the Judicial Conduct Panel that heard the conflict of interest case against Justice Annette Ziegler recommended that she receive a public reprimand. That is the punishment that Ziegler and the Wisconsin Judicial Commission agreed on and is unfortunately the very least that they could do. The ultimate decision will be up to the other Justices as they will be put in the awkward position of handing out punishment to one of their own.

Annette Ziegler’s violations were not a one time mistake but were repeated over the course of several years. As one of the members of the Judicial Panel said during their public hearing of the matter, “if a judge engages in misconduct it can’t be ‘€˜inadvertent’”.  Such repeated violations of very clear ethics rules do nothing but harm the judiciary and in this case the high court itself.

The same Judge on the panel that called Ziegler’s violations a “blip” apparently feels that they are also deserving of punishment. The question is what would be appropriate in this unique circumstance? Today the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign released an analysis showing that attorneys in Wisconsin typically receive more serious punishment than the mild one suggested by the Judicial Panel for Ziegler.   Quite simply the highest court should also have the highest standards. We are not talking about an unknown attorney in an obscure part of the state. We are dealing with repeated and serious ethical violations by a now sitting member of the State Supreme Court. Without a serious resolution, Justice Ziegler and the entire court will be clouded under doubt and subjected to frequent second guessing.  That is not helpful to Justice Ziegler, the high court, or to the idea of justice in Wisconsin. 

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