WDC Asks State To Investigate Supreme Court Justice

Ethics probe request centers on free legal services received by Justice Gableman

December 20, 2011

Madison – The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign asked the state’s Judicial Commission on Tuesday to investigate whether Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman violated ethics codes for receiving free legal services from a law firm that defended him against an earlier ethics complaint.

The Democracy Campaign requested an investigation of Gableman because the law firm of Michael Best & Friedrich never billed the justice for representing him against a Wisconsin Judicial Commission complaint that accused him of violating the judicial ethics code by lying about his opponent in a 2008 campaign ad. Gableman, who later defeated incumbent Justice Louis Butler in the race, was not found in violation of the ethics code because the Supreme Court deadlocked 3-3 on the complaint.

The judicial ethics code enforced by the commission says judges cannot accept gifts from anyone who is likely to appear before them, and the law firm reportedly has five cases before the high court that Gableman is taking part in. Gableman also was part of the 4-3 majority vote by the court last June when Michael Best & Friedrich represented the administration of Governor Scott Walker in a case that slashed public employee collective bargaining rights.

In addition to the judicial ethics code, the state ethics code enforced by the Government Accountability Board says no state officials may accept free gifts because of their position.

A letter released late last week by the law firm says Attorney Eric McLeod, who represented Gableman in the campaign ad ethics case, had a deal that said the justice would only pay for his legal services if Gableman recovered his attorneys fees from the state. But Gableman could not ask the state Claims Board to reimburse his legal fees because he didn’t win his case when the Supreme Court cast a tie vote.

Michael Best & Friedrich represented Gableman in the case from July 2008 through July 2010 and legal experts say the justice’s legal bill probably amounted to tens of thousands of dollars.

Request for investigation (pdf)