Last week a revelation came to light that was so shocking in its implications that every Wisconsin citizen, regardless of party affiliation, should be deeply concerned. No less than 29 Dane County judges were found to have signed petitions calling for the recall of Governor Walker. The fact that serving judges would indulge in partisan politics is a disgrace that threatens each and every one of us. America is a nation of laws, and if we lose confidence in the fairness of our court system, the result will be chaos followed inevitably by tyranny.
The preamble to Wisconsin’s Code of Judicial Conduct is unequivocal in its commitment to judicial integrity: “Intrinsic to all provisions of this code are the precepts that judges, individually and collectively, must respect and honor the judicial office as a public trust and strive to enhance and maintain the public trust and strive to enhance and maintain confidence in our legal system.” Fairness and impartiality is a theme that resonates throughout the Code, but is specifically underscored in SCR 60.03: “A judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge’s activities. (1) A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” And, with regard to political activities specifically, section SCR60.06 states: “Wisconsin adheres to the concept of a nonpartisan judiciary. A candidate for judicial office shall not appeal to partisanship and shall avoid partisan activity in the spirit of a nonpartisan judiciary.”
There are only three possibilities that can explain the shameful actions of the Dane County judges: One, they never read the Wisconsin Code in the first place; two, they simply chose to disregard it; or, three, they didn’t think they would ever be caught.
Last year the childish behavior of our Supreme Court was made public, to the chagrin of all of us who believe in the rule of law. The petition scandal is now only the latest affront to the integrity of our courts, and suggests a disturbing trend which must be stopped.
We snicker at neighboring states, especially Illinois, which is so riddled with corruption that its last two governors are serving time in federal prison. Well, it’s time we stop laughing and look in the mirror.
Bud Kuppenheimer, Phelps