Twenty-nine circuit court judges violated Wisconsin’s Code of Judicial conduct by signing the petition to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker, according to a complaint filed by the Landmark Legal Foundation.
The Landmark complaint references the judicial code of Wisconsin which requires judges to “avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all the judge’s activities.” The code says, “The test for appearance of impropriety is whether the conduct would create in reasonable minds a perception that the judge’s ability to carry out judicial responsibilities with integrity, impartiality and competence is impaired.”
Signing the recall petition organized by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin raised questions on the judges’ neutrality.
“This inherently political activity implies that these judges are endorsing, if not promoting, Governor Walker’s recall and calls into question the impartiality and judicial ethics of each signing circuit judge under the Code of Judicial Conduct,” says the complaint, which is signed by Landmark President Mark Levin, a nationally syndicated radio talk show host.
Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske also highlighted problems with judges signing the petition in an email to the Green Bay press gazette.
“It creates a problem with the appearance of impartiality if and when they may be called upon to decide any issues involving the governor or the Republican party,” Geske wrote.
“It is critical that judges do everything they can to demonstrate that the judiciary remains independent of the other two branches and will remain free of political influence,” she added.
Jim Alexander, executive director of the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, which governs judicial conduct, believes that because the code makes no specific reference to recall petitions that judges were in their rights to sign. After being contacted by a “handful” of judges around the state for advice over the propriety of signing the recall he gave them the “OK.”
Monroe County Judge J. David Rice said Alexander told him that signing the recall was OK.
“I did recognize there could be an issue about whether this was ethical, so I contacted (Alexander), told him what I was considering and asked his opinion,” Rice told the Green Bay Press Gazette. “He said in his opinion that didn’t violate the judicial ethics, so I relied on that in signing. … If he’d have said, ‘No,’ I wouldn’t have done it.”
Judges who signed the petition claim they have wiggle room because their actions don’t support a specific candidate or a political party, therefore their actions can be classified as supporting the electorate’s right to vote.