Cashing in on Conflicts of Interest: Justice Annette Ziegler

Todays Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel points out that State Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler is recusing herself from some of the cases that come before her.

Key word "some".

Ziegler doesn't deserve a medal. Before being elected to her current position on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Ziegler heard cases where she had a direct financial conflict of interest and ruled against the parties who were before her asking for justice.

Here's how the Journal-Sentinel described the case:

On Monday, the panel of three appeals judges will hold a hearing in West Bend on Ziegler's handling of cases as a Washington County circuit judge. Ziegler handled 11 cases involving West Bend Savings Bank, where her husband, J.J., earns $20,000 a year as a director. Judicial rules say judges must step aside in such cases unless they disclose the matter and all the parties involved say they approve of their hearing the matter.

After Ziegler was elected, she admitted wrongdoing in a settlement with the state Ethics Board and agreed to pay a $5,000 forfeiture and about $12,000 in attorney fees for the state.

In a separate investigation covering some of the same cases, the Judicial Commission concluded Ziegler should be publicly reprimanded. Ziegler has agreed that punishment would be appropriate. The panel of appeals judges will make its own recommendation to the Supreme Court.

Ziegler.jpgBy cashing in, Ziegler permanently sullied herself as a judge and showed she has a problem understanding the basic concepts of both fairness and justice.

Ziegler brought these problems on all by herself. Her partisan proponents have been claiming she's some sort of victim but even in her political campaign she showed poor judgement. It started out when she took a picture in front of the Washington county courthouse and her campaign used Adobe Photoshop to show her in front of the signs of several counties. The problem was it was the same picture. The building behind her was the same and the shape of the sign was the same -- the only thing that was changed was the words. I'll admit, I had a little fun with this on Watchdog Milwaukee. One good piece of photoshop creativity deserves another right?

Bikini-Ziegler.jpgFast forward to the present and Ziegler has taken $8625 from the Wisconsin Realtors Association's political action committee. She's recused herself in one case, yet another hasn't stated whether she'll recuse herself in the other.

For Ziegler, this has the scent of West Bend Savings Bank all over it. Despite the fact that she's still under scrutiny for her past wrongdoing, she's not automatically recusing herself where she has a present conflict. It is unfortunate for Ziegler, but even more unfortunate for the public when someone entrusted with such a high profile seat in the judicial system cannot grasp the basic concepts of justice.

Ziegler should step aside in those cases where she's bellying up to the bar for a shot of campaign cash. Justice isn't a game and the Supreme Court isn't a playground. It's not her place to stand in judgement in a case where she's been accepting handouts from one of those in front of her.

Imagine if you had a case in front of her and the opposing side was her pal. And what if you, like others who have had their cases before her, didn't know about her conflicts. If she'll stand in judgement of you on that day, who's to say she didn't make a call the previous day to her pals telling them not to worry -- that since they've covered her back, she'll cover theirs. After all, that would be a simple case of loyalty right? Helping the person who helped you, on the surface at least, seems like the right thing to do.

Well the realtors are upset. They don't want her to recuse herself on cases involving realtors and Ziegler. They shelled out their money, now they want their payday.

It's a simple fact in a capitalistic society -- you don't get something for nothing.

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