The Wisconsin Supreme Court announced Thursday it will begin the proceedings involving a complaint against Justice Mike Gableman for a questionable campaign advertisement.
In a statement released Thursday, the court said Gableman requested the court review the complaint brought against him by the Judicial Commission.
The court also said it received the conclusions and recommendation of the Judicial Conduct Panel, which was charged with the preliminary investigation into whether or not a campaign ad supporting Gableman violated the Wisconsin Code of Judicial Conduct.
The ad in question refers to an attack ad run on behalf of Gableman concerning then-incumbent Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler. The disputed ad insinuated that during his tenure as an appellate state public defender, Butler “found a loophole” which allowed a child molester to go free.
The panel, composed of three appellate court justices, reviewed the ad in November, using two conduct rules which bar false statements and encourage justices to maintain a level of decorum as their guidelines.
Though not all of the justices shared the same reasoning and interpretations, all three of the justices concluded the complaint against Gableman should be dismissed.
The statement said the next steps in the case require the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, who originally filed the complaint, to decide whether to submit a brief to the court within the next month, and within 20 days of WJC’s decision; Gableman shall also choose to submit a brief or not.
The statement added Gableman was not involved in the Supreme Court proceedings for this case Thursday.
Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, a non-profit organization concerned with campaign ethics and government accountability, said the court’s review of the case will be something worth watching.
“It’s going to be an interesting case with the question, ‘Did Gableman violate the judicial code by knowingly running ads that were truthful?’” Heck said. “The fact that it’s true is his defense.”
Heck said the varied decisions of the panel reflect that, as a whole, the ads did not appear to be truthful, but the elements themselves were factually correct.
The other interesting aspect of the case, Heck said, is the Supreme Court justices themselves, who are deciding whether or not to punish “one of their own.”
“Generally they do not like to reprimand one another, but the court did reprimand Justice Annette Ziegler over conflicts of interest in regards to … whether her rulings were in conflict with her financial interests,” Heck said.
He said he does not have any prediction as to what actions the Supreme Court will take in the case.
Heck added he thinks the state Legislature should begin working toward reforming “attack” ads in justice campaigns, as it had recently finished passing the Impartial Justice bill to reform campaign financing in justice elections.
“We have Impartial Justice, and now further reform for outside issues ads could prevent similar ads from running in future justice campaigns,” Heck said.