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Friday, March 23, 2007

Supreme Court Updates

by folkbum

I've been meaning to do an update on the state supreme court race, but I've been busy. It's probably happened to you a couple of times, so, you'd better not start with me. Okay?

I want to get under way with the Capital Times. They ran an editorial Tuesday that really laid down a gauntlet for Washington County Judge Annette Ziegler:
In particular, the Ziegler camp is objecting to the fact that researchers associated with the [Linda] Clifford campaign have reviewed the judge's record on the bench.

What is absurd about that complaint is the fact that Ziegler has framed her entire campaign around the argument that voters should elect her because she has served as a judge. In such a circumstance, it would be ridiculous to assume that rivals would fail to ask the question: If Annette Ziegler's sole claim on the support of Wisconsin voters is the fact that she is a judge, then what kind of judge has she been?

What Ziegler really objects to is not the scrutiny. What bothers her is that the scrutiny has revealed damaging details about her disregard for basic ethical standards. [. . .] Wisconsin voters have a right to know whether candidates for seats on the state's most powerful court are ethical. To have denied the voters information they need to make informed choices about who should sit on the court would be reprehensible.
It's true that these charges have gotten Ziegler and her allies really, really worked up. Ziegler's latest campaign commercial, in fact, is probably among the worst decisions manager Mark Graul has ever made (and that's saying a lot!). It features, as the AP describes it, "black and white video of Clifford cast against a full moon, words in a horror movie-style font on the screen note Clifford is an 'immigration lawyer.' " Who is Ziegler's constituency again? And who on earth could think that a commercial like that would attract voters?

But the cockroaches are scrambling trying to deal with what is apparently a very scary set of facts for the Ziegler campaign to deal with. Linked yesterday from is not one, not two, but three opinion pieces that spend significant verbiage minimizing what is a pattern of repeated clear violations of the state's code of judicial ethics. Calling it variously "small-fry," "sloppy," and "a complete non-story," these writers mange to hit the conservative commentator trifecta: They assuage their reader- and listenership that they do not see what they think they see; they imply that the liberals pursuing the story are petty, nuts, or both; and they manage to pat themselves on the back for being so clever. (This is much less true for Rick Esenberg than for Charlie Sykes and Jeff Wagner, but Rick has a dog in this fight and it shows.)

(In the interest of fairness, I should also point out that WisOpinion did also link to a couple of anti-Ziegler pieces, including this excellent one from Ken Mobile. And they also linked to this pro-Ziegler blogger who wrote about Monday night's candidate forum without once mentioning ethics, conflict, West Bend Savings Bank, or even husband or stocks. Well done, Daniel!)

Wednesday the Cap Times handed over op-ed space to the two candidates themselves, offering both Clifford and Ziegler the opportunity to go directly to the voters with their messages. Both candidates played up their experience, with Ziegler, as usual, reminding us of her past as a prosecutor and present as a judge, and Clifford reviewing her experience as an assistant attorney general and appellate lawyer who has actually argued in front of the court she now wishes to sit on.

You should read both pieces, of course, but it's in that discussion of experience where I think Clifford and Ziegler show clear differences that have nothing to do with any candidate's ethical issues. A decade of sentencing criminals or awarding small claims is no substitute for three decades of litigation, working in the attorney general's office, and chewing on the legal questions of the day on a regular basis. At every opportunity Ziegler tells us she's been tough on crime, but there is little in her experience to tell us whether she can handle the job that the supreme court actually does. Clifford, on the other hand, clearly has the background necessary to understand the role of the court. (See also Kristen Crowell's reaction to Ziegler's op-ed.)

I mentioned there was a candidate forum last Monday; it was at Marquette and the Milwaukee journal Sentinel has the video. There's another forum tonight to be aired live on Wisconsin Public Television and Radio, and re-aired around the state.

But before that forum on Monday, Linda Clifford was in town to do an event at Bryan Kennedy's place. It was so nice to meet both Linda and her husband, who both seem like genuinely nice and smart people. (And I totally forgot to bond with Linda about our both being Beloit College alums!) I ran into a number of other swell people there, too, inlcuding State Senator Jim Sullivan, former folkbum guest blogger "krshorewood," BIll Elliott, some old fellow Howard Dean groupies, and even Boris and Doris. There, Linda reminded us that at any moment, the Zieglers can drop a very big chunk of their personal fortune into the race to try to buy away the ethical problems dogging Ziegler's campaign. I've said it before and I'll say it again: blogs don't vote. What wins elections is still money and feet on the ground, and if you can help in either of those ways, please do.

This is now way too long, so I'm not even able to get into the complaint filed against Ziegler by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, or the brazenness of responding to an open records request with blacked out pages (image from this week's Shepherd Express), the latest revelations about the timing of Ziegler's rulings and comapaign contributions from West Bend Savings Bank officials, or even the endorsements Clifford has received from mayors across the state as diverse as Larry Nelson and (former Tomah Mayor and popular libertarian) Ed Thompson. So, more later, I'm sure.

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