January 7, 2008

Slap on the Wrist is Not Enough

Last week the judicial conduct panel recommended that Justice Annette Ziegler receive a public reprimand for her repeated violations of very clear ethics rules.  That light tap on the wrist seemed to trigger an effort to minimize what Ziegler has done.  Thankfully, not everyone is falling for the attempt to change the subject and minimize her wrongdoing.   

Today the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  suggested in an editorial that the proposed remedy by the judicial panel is inadequate.

Last week the judicial conduct panel recommended that Justice Annette Ziegler receive a public reprimand for her repeated violations of very clear ethics rules.  That light tap on the wrist seemed to trigger an effort to minimize what Ziegler has done.  Thankfully, not everyone is falling for the attempt to change the subject and minimize her wrongdoing.   

Today the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  suggested in an editorial that the proposed remedy by the judicial panel is inadequate.  They rightfully express concern that a mere reprimand “doesn’t send a strong enough message to other judges” so they recommend a suspension.  Although some miss the point regarding the seriousness of Ziegler’s violations, the editorial addresses the real issue.  In it they stress the principle of judicial independence and that “the public must be able to trust that judges can be fair and aren’t hiding anything.”   

The Editorial Board of the state’s largest newspaper is not the only group dissatisfied with the judicial panel’s recommendation in the Ziegler matter.  Shortly after Judge Ralph Adam Fine made his infamous comment calling the Ziegler violations a “blip” many individual citizens responded.  The All Politics blog reported yesterday citing some of those comments.  They report that as soon as Fine minimized the Ziegler violations, he started receiving phone calls and letters from Wisconsinites.  One asked “why when a judge makes a mistake it’s covered up but when an ordinary citizen makes a mistake, they have to pay for it?”  Even a person that had voted for Ziegler said that she should receive a “stiff and appropriate” penalty.   

Although some would like to minimize Annette Ziegler’s violations, thankfully there are still others that realize the seriousness of the matter.  It is no longer about Annette Ziegler herself, but about maintaining the idea of ethics and independence on the judiciary.  A slap on the wrist in this instance will simply erode those ideas and harm both the high court and the judiciary as a whole. 

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