Wisconsin Judges are suppose to be Non-Partisan --- but Are They --- and Where do They get the Money for Their Campaigns?
Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge John Siefert doesn’t think Judges should be Non-Partisan, and he wants Judges to Come Out of the Closet in Regards to Their Politics.
Until recently, Wisconsin’s Code of Judicial Conduct prohibited Judges, or candidates for Judgeship to announce their political party membership, endorse partisan candidates or personally solicit campaign contributions.
Judge Siefert sued the Wisconsin Judicial Commission in Federal Court and won the first round of the battle in 2009 in a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb. . As noted by an article in the Journal Sentinel posted Feb 18, 2009:
“Wisconsin judges can join political parties, solicit campaign donations and endorse partisan candidates, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge John Siefert - a Democratic Party activist until his election to the bench in 1997 - filed a lawsuit last year claiming Wisconsin Judicial Commission rules banning judicial political involvement were unconstitutional. He applauded the decision as a victory for the public.
His lawsuit claimed the rules were an infringement on his First Amendment right to free speech. “
In the Second round of Siefert’s battle, two of the three points he won in Judge Crabb’s court were overturned by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
As noted in Judge John DiMotto’s blog, Bench and Bar Experiences posting on June 15, 2010:
“Yesterday, in a 2-1 decision, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part Judge Crabb's decision in Seifert v. Alexander. The Court held:
1) The ban on a judge joining a political party was unconstitutional.
2) The ban on a judge endorsing a candidate in a partisan election was constitutional.
3) The ban on a judge directly soliciting campaign contributions was constitutional.”
So in effect, Judges MAY belong to a political party, but are Prohibited from Endorsing in a Partisan Election, or Directly Soliciting Campaign Contributions.
Judge DiMotto also noted that for him personally: “While this ruling allows judges to join political parties, I do not intend to do so. I believe that the ban on joining a political party serves the public and I ran for judge 20 years ago to serve the public.”
For me personally, I hold both Judges Siefert and DiMotto in High Regard. I think they are two of the best examples of hard working, conscientious and ethical judges that we have, and they both have a high regard for both the parties before them, and the law.
Two GOOD people who happen to disagree – It Happens!
IN THE REAL WORLD:
I have been to both Democratic Party and Republican Party meetings at which candidates running in judicial elections, and judges seeking re-election have spoken.
Their remarks, whether in front of a Democratic or Republican Group follow the same pattern.
On the one hand, they say that they cannot talk about any issues, as they may have to rule on them in the future, when they are on the bench. And they declare that as a candidate for a judgeship, they are not allowed to belong to a political party, or endorse a political party.
Yet invariably, out come the stories that leave No Doubt as to which political sentiments they have ………..
I remember one candidate talking fondly about how he first became aware of public service by becoming active in (Young Dems – Young Reps), working for candidates, delivering yard signs, doing lit drops etc.
Of course, if someone would happen to mistakenly think that candidate was all but shouting out that he was aligned with the political group assembled --- they would be absolutely right.
Think about it --- the old rule that Judicial Candidates could not belong to a political party, gave them the perfect cover to stonewall those who they do not agree with and who would like to document the political persuasion that the candidate is coming from --- and yet (wink, wink) they made it perfectly clear to the political activists of whichever party they really support that they were on their side.
It is Not just by accident that political parties openly support one judicial candidate over the other --- even though they are supposedly “non-partisan” elections.
The same campaign scenario is also played out in front of Issue Oriented Groups, such as those Opposed to Abortion and those in Favor of Abortion. The candidates who continually assert that they cannot comment on Issues that may come before the court, manage to make their Positions on Issues like Abortion very well known to the Side they are on.
It is important for them to make Alliances with Issue and Political Groups, in order to get their Financial Support.
In the Gableman (Republican supported) Butler (Democrat supported) race for the Wisconsin Supreme Court --- outsider spending was crucial for both candidates:
According to the website Judgepedia :
“Spending by independent groups
The campaign has been marked by high levels of spending from independent groups, compared to the amounts that each candidate is spending through his own campaign committee. A report issued on March 26 showed that more than $2,000,000 has been spent by independent groups who have no contribution limits or legal duty to disclose donors. The independent groups supporting both sides in the race have cumulatively spent more than nine times as much on television ads as the candidates have themselves.
Independent groups include the Greater Wisconsin Committee (GWC) supporting Butler. GWC spent $603,000 through March 24. Meanwhile, the Club for Growth, the Coalition for America’s Families and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce had cumulatively spent $1.2 million through the same date supporting Gableman. WEAC, the state's largest teacher's union, entered the fray with a TV ad buy in late March. The political action arm of the National Rifle Association spent $73,000 on pro-Gableman mailings. “
THE REAL HIDDEN CONSTITUENCY
Although Judge Siefert has so far won the right to publicly have a Political Party affiliation, the other two issues were reversed for now:
2) The ban on a judge endorsing a candidate in a partisan election.
3) The ban on a judge directly soliciting campaign contributions.
I think the ban on endorsing candidates in partisan elections is illogical since judges can now belong to a political party, their political views are already known. Not allowing them to make an endorsement, would seem to be a denial of their Freedom of Speech,. And although I think it is wrong, in the overall picture, it probably won’t affect public at large, or those appearing before the court.
The ban on a judge directly soliciting campaign contributions however, is an Insidious Assault on non-biased treatment of those appearing before the court --- as it affects the very heart of Fairness.
Every Judge of course has a Personal Opinion on every Issue --- and whether spoken or silent, every Judge has a Political Philosophy. Those Opinions and Philosophies will always be present, but they do not Directly Relate to the Livelihood of the Judicial Candidate.
A Democrat appearing before a Judge who happens to be a Republican, would reasonably expect that the Judge will not take his or her political persuasion into account in their opinion. Not to say that it has never happened, as some very Predominantly Political Cases seemed to have been prejudicially decided by Ideological Judges.
But in the case of Raising Funds for one’s own Election --- this is a very Personal Matter, as a Candidate for the Bench MUST have Funds to Run a Campaign.
As the Rules PROHIBIT a Candidate for the Bench in Raising Funds – that means a Third Party must take the reins, organize a Fund Raising Committee, hold Fund Raisers, Make Appeals for Money, and provide the “grease” of American Elections --- MONEY.
Due to this Rule --- virtually all Money Raised for Judicial Candidates is done by Lawyers! And the Money Trail shows that the Group that is most Solicited for Contributions to Judicial Candidates, are also Lawyers!
Forcing Judicial Candidates to Rely on Lawyers to Raise and Contribute the Money they need for their Campaigns, sets up the Mother of All Conflicts of Interest.
The very Lawyers that appear in front of a Judge --- are the ones who either helped put the Judge on the Bench --- or at the very least, will be someone the Judge who could help the Judge, when re-election time comes, as the Judge cannot Legally Raise the Money Himself or Herself.
In addition, when it comes to Small Claims Court, is the Judge going to give Preference to the Party who is Represented by an Attorney, over the Party Appearing for Themselves (pro se)?
(Note that Judge Siefert is presently on the Small Claims Court and I believe he does not show such bias)
In a future posting, I would like to go deeper into the workings of our court system, in regards to the treatment of the citizenry by the Courts and the Judges. But that is a subject which would take up too much room here --- or probably in any one posting.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? MAKE JUDICIAL RACES POLITICAL? ALLOW JUDICIAL CANDIDATES TO RAISE MONEY FOR THEIR OWN RACES?
YOU BE THE JUROR AND LET US KNOW WHAT YOU DECIDE!