"Justice" is certainly a lofty concept. It is best personified by the well-known image of the Roman god Justicia who, wearing a blindfold, holds the scales of justice in the balance.
And that blindfold isn't just for show — it is a clear reminder that, in the realm of justice, perceptions and appearances do matter, a fact quite lost on Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Annette Ziegler.
Earlier this month, the Wisconsin State Journal reported Ms. Ziegler, a Washington County circuit judge, uses what she calls a "gut check" to decide whether she has a conflict of interest in cases over which she presides. The report also revealed numerous instances of Ms. Ziegler taking cases that clearly involved conflicts of interest, including cases where she or her husband had a personal financial stake in one of the parties.
Even if Ms. Ziegler delivered fair rulings in those cases, it seems any prudent judge would do his or her best to avoid even the slightest appearance of impropriety.
Ms. Ziegler's opponent, Linda Clifford, a Madison-area attorney, has jumped all over the scandal. Indeed, Ms. Ziegler's transgressions demonstrate a shocking deficiency in good judgment — a disturbing trait for someone who aspires to be, well, a judge.
For this fundamental ethical reason, we believe Ms. Clifford is the better choice for Wisconsin Supreme Court. While we have some minor reservations about her, nothing in her record suggests shortcomings like those of Ms. Ziegler.
Ms. Clifford is a graduate of Beloit College and the University of Wisconsin Law School. After graduating from law school in 1974, she served as an assistant attorney general for the Wisconsin Department of Justice. After several years, she started a private practice before joining the Madison law firm LaFollette, Godfrey and Kahn, where she has worked to this day.
With Wisconsin Supreme Court elections being nonpartisan, it is difficult to make precise assessments of where candidates stand on certain issues. However, Ms. Ziegler's endorsement from Wisconsin Right to Life, an anti-abortion lobbying group, should be enough to raise eyebrows among some UW students.
Additionally, although Ms. Ziegler has garnered support from Wisconsin's business lobby, her ethical lapses and resulting lack of credibility outweigh the benefit of any pro-business positions she may ultimately take during her tenure on the court.
Ms. Ziegler and her supporters have assailed Ms. Clifford for her lack of "experience." While it is true she has never been a judge, it does seem she will bring a thoughtful and ethical approach to her duties on the high court.
Besides, a lack of experience can be made up for with some growing pains and a lot of hard work. The same cannot be said for a lack of ethics and common sense.