Facing allegations of ethics violations in a 2008 campaign ad, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman is trying to exclude fellow Justice Patrick Crooks from taking part in the case because he believes Crooks to be biased against him.
In a motion filed by Gableman’s lawyer on Friday, Gableman accuses Crooks of a bias “so extreme as to display clear inability to render fair judgment,” stemming from comments made criticizing Gableman’s lawyer, James Bopp Jr.
Bopp accused criminal defense attorneys of a “willingness to subvert our system of … bringing criminals into account” while defending Gableman’s 2008 campaign advertisement that was accused of being factually misleading.
The ad asserted that then-opponent Louis Butler, a former defense attorney, “found a loophole” in a case of child rape that allowed the defendant to commit a second rape.
Butler lost the case and the criminal he defended committed the second rape after serving his sentence.
Crooks said that Bopp’s comments “startled and appalled many in the legal community,” and he called on Gableman to distance himself from the lawyer’s views.
“By existing standards of judicial and attorney ethics, both Gableman and his attorney have unambiguously gone way over the line of acceptable conduct,” University of Wisconsin professor of political science Howard Schweber said.
But Gableman believes Crooks’ comments illustrate “by extension, hostility toward Justice Gableman” that justifies excluding Crooks from the proceedings against him, according to the motion.
Accusations like Gableman’s have been virtually unheard of in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court until now.
“The decisions they make are so important and so fundamental that I think it’s normal for there to be a certain level of rancor among them,” President of the Wisconsin Bar Association’s Board of Governors Douglas Kammer said. “But this business about overt prejudice being asserted against the judges is something new in my career and I’ve been in this for almost 40 years.”
The other justices will issue the final decision on Gableman’s case, which could include reprimanding him, suspending him without pay or removing him from the court altogether.
Schweber said he believes Gableman’s accusation stems from the politicization of Wisconsin’s highest court.
“These proceedings, it should be noted, grow out of a bitter and highly partisan judicial election in which the direct participation of GOP consultants and operatives in Gableman’s campaign … reached a level of partisanship so extreme that the entire system of Wisconsin’s judicial elections has been called into question,” Schweber said.
But Kammer contends the alternative — judicial appointments — may not be much better.
“I think what happens is that the electorate is fickle. They elect groups of people, and it sometimes gets so you have an abundance of people with extreme views,” Kammer said. “And with such extreme views, there’s going to be a certain level of rancor and animosity.”
As of press time, neither Gableman nor his lawyer was available for comment.