Tag Archives: judicial

Merit selection: The best way to end judicial corruption

In the almost 4,000 years since Hammurabi codified Babylonian law, Western cultures have held judicial fairness and impartiality as an ideal. To be sure, it’s an ideal sometimes honored more in the breach than in the keeping, but it’s an unchanging ideal nonetheless.

Today, in Wisconsin, that ideal is under attack, from enemies both old and new.

Wisconsin elects its judges and elections mean donations and donations mean influence. The more money that flows into a judge’s coffers, the greater the chances that fairness and impartiality are at risk.

It’s critical for Wisconsin to reconsider the way judges are selected. The American Bar Association has advocated for merit selection since 1937. Merit selection, which is used in two-thirds of the states, relies on neutral experts and nonpartisan boards to select a qualified pool of candidates from which the governor can choose. In some states, approval of the senate also is required.

Under the system, judges must stand for retention after a determined number of years. The public is asked to vote only on whether to keep them. There are no competitive elections.

Alternately, the Wisconsin Bar Association has proposed a constitutional amendment that would limit justices to a single, 16-year term. According to WAB, the term limits would “engender greater public confidence in the court’s ability to pursue justice independently of political influence.”

We don’t think term limits are strong enough to solve the problem. Only merit selection upholds the ideal of blind justice.

Wisconsin’s already corrupt system has been further damaged by two high court rulings, one from Washington and the other from Madison.

In its Citizens United ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ratcheted up brazen judicial bribery by removing limits on how much donors can contribute secretly to PACs to influence elections.

In Wisconsin, the problem is compounded by a state Supreme Court decision that campaigns can coordinate election strategies directly with dark money groups. The story of how such coordination became legal demonstrates how this kind of corruption works.

Several dark money groups were charged in a state “John Doe” case with illegal coordination during Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign. The same groups had given $8 million to four of the conservative justices on the bench.

So, when the case arrived at the high court, its outcome was a foregone conclusion. But the paid-for justices went further than anyone imagined they would. They not only dismissed the case against their donor, but ignored all legal precedent and tossed out the law banning such coordination. Then they ordered the evidence to be destroyed.

Why weren’t those justices recused from a case in which there was such a blatant conflict of interest? Just because, they said.

On April 5, with nearly four times the anonymous cash spent for her as for her opponent, Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley won a 10-year term on the high court. Now the dark money groups have five-two control over justice in the state.

Money over merit: A majority of area lawyers said Bradley was unqualified. She’d never served on a judicial bench until 2012, when Scott Walker appointed her to a Milwaukee Circuit Court position. Last fall, following the death of Justice Patrick Crooks, Walker elevated her to the high court to finish out Crooks’ term, making her the incumbent in the election.

WiG is not alone in calling for reform. On April 5, 11 diverse towns in Wisconsin held referenda asking whether to amend the Constitution to undo Citizens United by declaring that money is not speech. Between 74 and 88 percent of voters said yes. That brought the total number of Wisconsin communities who’ve voted to nix Citizens United to 72. Forty-four percent of the state’s citizens live in those jurisdictions.

We need Citizens United to be thrown on the trash heap of history, and we must stop electing justices and appoint them on merit. Fair and impartial justice must not be negotiable.

Oregon county judge refuses to perform same-sex marriages

Marion County Judge Vance Day is being investigated by a judicial fitness commission in part over his refusal to perform same-sex marriages on religious grounds, a spokesman for the Oregon judge said.

When a federal court ruling in May 2014 made same-sex marriage legal in Oregon, Day instructed his staff to refer same-sex couples looking to marry to other judges, spokesman Patrick Korten said.

Last fall, he decided to stop performing weddings altogether, aside from one in March that had long been scheduled, Korten said.

“He made a decision nearly a year ago to stop doing weddings altogether, and the principal factor that he weighed was the pressure that one would face to perform a same-sex wedding, which he had a conflict with his religious beliefs,” Korten said.

In an email, Day declined to comment and referred questions to Korten.

The issue of same-sex weddings is “the weightiest” of several allegations against Day that are being investigated by the Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability, Korten said.

He declined to detail any of the allegations, saying he didn’t want to defy the commission, which considers complaints confidential until it is ready to make them public.

The investigation of Day’s conduct comes amid heightened national attention to the responsibilities of public officials who oppose same-sex marriage. Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky, went to jail Thursday because of her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Last month, the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Conduct said judges can’t refuse to marry same-sex couples on personal, moral or religious grounds.

Judges who stop performing all marriages to avoid marrying same-sex couples may be interpreted as biased and could be disqualified from any case where sexual orientation is an issue, the Ohio board ruled.

The investigation of Day came to light last week, when the Oregon Government Ethics Commission – a separate entity from the judicial fitness commission – approved the judge’s request to create a legal defense fund to pay his lawyers.

Day, a former chairman of the Oregon Republican Party, was appointed to the bench in 2011 by then-Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat.

Day’s move concerned Jeana Frazzini, co-director of the gay-rights group Basic Rights Oregon.

“Taking that kind of a step really calls into question how an LGBTQ person could expect to be treated in a court of law,” Frazzini said. “It goes beyond marriage and gets to serious questions about judicial integrity.”

In her re-election campaign, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley calls for throwing politics out of court

Judicial positions are nominally non-partisan, but any illusion that’s the case evaporated long ago. There’s no better illustration than the efforts of right-wing Republicans to oust two-term incumbent Justice Ann Walsh Bradley on April 7.  Her loss would give conservatives a 5–2 advantage on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

 Bradley’s opponent — Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley — denies he has any ideological bias, but he’s sent out tweets using the hashtag #tcot, which stands for “top conservatives on Twitter.” He admits that the Republican Party helped circulate his nominating papers and he’s appeared at GOP gatherings throughout the state, promoting his conservative agenda and asking for help.

Daley told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he’s attended those events simply to speak with voters who are most likely to share his philosophy. He called Bradley an “activist judge,” a criticism that Republicans in the state frequently aim at judges who’ve issued opinions against Gov. Scott Walker’s agenda, including his union-busting Act 10 and his law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls.

In a conversation with WiG, Bradley blasted Daley for being co-opted by the Republican Party and for having Republican operatives on his campaign staff. She said her campaign did not accept help from the Democratic Party to circulate her nominating papers and that her campaign would not accept contributions from political parties or attorneys and litigants with pending cases.

In fact, Bradley said that maintaining judicial independence is the centerpiece of her retention bid. It’s not only unethical for partisanship and campaign donations to influence application of the law, she said, but it also erodes the public’s perception of a fair justice system.

Knowing that conservatives would probably spend massive amounts of money on advertising and TV commercials that misrepresent her record, Bradley thought long and hard about seeking a third term on the bench.

“I know what is coming in the last few days or weeks of the campaign,” she said.

But it’s that knowledge that ultimately determined her decision to run. “I think it’s time to stop this influx of partisanship in the judiciary,” she said. “My vision of a judiciary is different from what we’ve seen in the recent past.”

According to Bradley, Wisconsin ranks No. 2 in the nation for special interest advertising in judicial races — behind only Pennsylvania.

“It’s not this way in other states, and it doesn’t have to be this way in Wisconsin,” she said.

But, for now, partisanship dominates. Major corporate money, including third-party donations from such lobbying groups as Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Koch brothers-backed Wisconsin Club for Growth are expected to flow into the campaign of Bradley’s opponent. Together the two groups spent an estimated $8.3 million for “issue ads” helping to elect conservative Justices Annette Ziegler, Michael Gableman, David Prosser and Patience Roggensack, according to wiconsinwatch.org. That amount dwarfs the $3.2 million spent by those same justices on their own campaigns.

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

See also: page one story about this race that appeared on The New York Times’ cover

Arkansas judge comes out as anonymous poster of racist comments

An Arkansas judge has admitted that he posted a series of anonymous online comments that critics say are racist, sexist and otherwise inappropriate, including one in which he revealed alleged details of confidential proceedings involving actress Charlize Theron’s adoption of her son.

Circuit Judge Mike Maggio acknowledged this week that he posted the comments on a Louisiana State University fan message board, Tiger Droppings, under the pseudonym “geauxjudge.” He also ended his campaign for a seat on the Arkansas Court of Appeals.

“I take full responsibility for the comments that have been attributed to me,” Maggio said in a statement. “I apologize deeply for my lapse in personal judgment and for that, I have no excuse. The comments posted were not acceptable. These comments are not a reflection of who I am.”

The state’s Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission is investigating Maggio’s postings, said its executive director, David Sachar.

Maggio, whose term as a 20th Judicial District judge expires at the end of the year, asked for privacy for his family. He didn’t immediately respond to an email or phone message left at his office seeking comment.

Political blogger Matt Campbell first suggested that “geauxjudge” was Maggio in a Monday posting on his website, Blue Hog Report. He included screen grabs of “geauxjudge” postings from the past few years, including some that dropped biographical hints or that many would find racist, sexist or homophobic.

In a Jan. 17, 2012, posting, “geauxjudge” disclosed what he said were details of Theron’s adoption proceedings. He wrote that a “judge friend” handled the case, but it wasn’t immediately clear if Maggio, himself, was involved. Such proceedings are confidential in Arkansas, and there are no cases in the state’s online court records that mention Theron’s name. Her publicist, Amanda Silverman, declined to comment about the matter.

Theron announced in March 2012 that she had adopted a boy from South Africa named Jackson.

In a June 2011 posting, “geauxjudge” suggested that women who seek divorces after their husbands cheat may be better off financially by staying married. In Arkansas, circuit judges like Maggio handle divorce cases, among other civil and criminal casework.

“I see it everyday. A woman makes (an) emotional decision to divorce because the husband stepped out. When otherwise he was a good provider, father, and husband,” the posting says. “Then a year or two later realizes uh oh I am worse off financially, emotionally and relationship wise but hey they showed that SOB. Too many times the women get their advice from other divorced women.”

In a posting from last December about baby names, “geauxjudge” wrote about the effect a name can have on an individual’s success, the website reported.

“How many Doctors do you hear named Dr. Taneesha or HaHa?” he wrote, apparently referring to Ha’Sean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix, a black University of Alabama football player. “How many bankers do (you) hear named Brylee? So stick with something close to normal. Or come sit in criminal court any day and see the `common names.'”

Responding to a story about a woman who was arrested for allegedly having sex with a dog, “geauxjudge” wrote that it was “just a small step” from having “TGGLBS” sex, an apparent reference to transgender, gay, lesbian or bisexual sex.