Monday, April 30, 2007

Supreme Court sets deadline for Ethics Board response to Ziegler request

The state Supreme Court this morning ordered the Ethics Board to file a response by Monday to Annette Ziegler's petition that argues the board lacks jurisdiction to pursue a complaint against her. The court also declined to order a stay in the Ethics Board investigation, as Ziegler has requested.

Ziegler, who will be sworn in to the Supreme Court Aug. 1, filed a petition last week asking to court to take original jurisdiction in the Ethics Board investigation of alleged conflicts of interest while Ziegler served as a Washington County judge. A concurrent investigation is also underway in the state Judicial Commission.

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, and Justices Jon Wilcox, Patrick Crooks, Patience Roggensack, Louis Butler and Ann Walsh Bradley particip ated in this morning's order. Justice David Prosser was not available.

See the order:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/070430Zieglerorder.pdf

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Prosser, Crooks clash as court dismisses Green vs. SEB

In a scathing concurring opinion to the formal dismissal of the settled Green vs. State Elections Board case, Justice David Prosser railed against his colleagues. He said they "did not care" about justice.

"In the midst and aftermath of an important gubernatorial election, this court did nothing to ascertain and enforce rights, or to assure the integrity of the electoral process," Prosser writes. "Instead, it used every imaginable pretext to avoid making a decision."

Justice Patrick Crooks shot back in his written concurrence, characterizing Prosser's opinion as "hogwash, pure hogwash."

"The fact is that this court spent many, many hours working on the petition asking to commence an original action, as well as on the various submissions of the petitioners, the respondents, and the amicus," wrote Crooks.

The court's dismissal officially ends Green's lawsuit over campaign funds transferred from his congressional account, which was settled March 16. That agreement stipulates the Republican was following precedence and advice he received from board staff when he converted money from his congressional account to his gubernatorial fund, but also states the Electionsb Board was following its interpretation of the law when it ordered the Republican to dump some $468,000 money from out-of-state PACs that was included in the conversion. The deal also puts limits on how Green can use the money.

See the high court's dismissal and the Crooks, Prosser opinions: http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/070425_SC_Green_SEB.pdf

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Judicial Commission approves Ziegler investigation

The Wisconsin Judicial Commission has authorized an investigation of allegations against Supreme Court Justice-elect Annette Ziegler, her attorney said in a statement Friday afternoon.

The commission met to discuss a request from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign to investigate whether Ziegler violated judicial codes by hearing cases in her Washington County court room involving a bank of which her husband was a director. The commission would prosecute any investigation, and the matter would ultimately go to the Supreme Court, which has the authority to reprimand, censure, suspend or remove a judge.

"We are confident the Judicial Commission's review will find that Judge Ziegler and her family did not benefit from any case she handled," Ziegler attorney Dan Hildebrand said in a statement. "We are also confident the Judicial Commission will find that Judge Ziegler did not demonstrate bias toward any party and that her decisions were legally sound."

See the Hildebrand statement:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/_070420_Hildebrand_Statement.pdf

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Circuit court releases written opinion in Thompson case

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago released its written opinion on the Georgia Thompson case Friday.

The court overturned Thompson's conviction two weeks before and released her from an 18-month prison sentence. She returned to work at the Department of Administration today, taking the position of assistant to the director of the Bureau of Risk Management. Thompson will earn a a salary of $77,300, plus full benefits. She will also receive $67,161.46 in back pay.

In the written opinion overturning her conviction, Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote that Thompson was convicted of, at best, a mistake in calculating the scores of the travel companies involved, and that it could be argued a mistake was never made in the first place. Easterbrook also wrote that even a deliberate error is "a civil rather than a criminal transgression."

"What 'fraud' did Thompson commit, and who was the victim?," Easterbrook wrote. "Thompson did not bilk the state out of any money or pocket any of the funds that were supposed to be used to buy travel."

See the written decision:
http://www.ca7.uscourts.gov/tmp/2I0TLBUE.pdf

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Friday, April 20, 2007

U.S. Attorney asks judge to reconsider Hurtgen decision

The U.S. attorney's office in Chicago filed a motion late Thursday asking for reconsideration of a decision to dismiss the charges against former Tommy Thompson aide and bond trader Nick Hurtgen, arguing a federal judge erred in his analysis of the case.

A federal judge last month dismissed the seven counts of extortion and mail and wire fraud against Hurtgen, the one-time head of the municipal bond business for the Bear Stearns & Co. office in Chicago.

Prosecutors alleged Hurtgen was part of a kickback scheme involving a construction executive and the head of the Illinois board that regulates hospital projects. Judge John Grady found prosecutors had failed to provide evidence that Hurtgen knew of the kickback scheme involved in an Illinois hospital project.

But U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald argued in today's motion that the government had met the legal requirements to show a scheme to defraud and it should be up to a jury to decide whether "Hurtgen had the specific intent to defraud the people of Illinois." He also argues the federal extortion statute does not require prosecutors to lay out "details about the scope of Hurtgen's knowledge" of the extortion scheme.

Hurtgen attorney Steve Hurley could not be reached for comment late this afternoon.

See the filing:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/070418HurtgenMotion.pdf

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Ethics Board files complaint against Ziegler

The state Ethics Board will ask a former Appeals Court judge to fine Annette Ziegler for handling cases in her Washington County courtroom involving a bank of which her husband is on the board of directors. The board says its investigation found probable cause that Ziegler, who won a seat on the state Supreme Court this month, broke state law in handling the cases.

The Ethics Board said it reviewed 26 cases Ziegler was assigned over the past three years involving the bank. It found 21 were uncontested matters that did not include her direct participation, leaving five cases in which she was an active participant.

Board chair Jim Morgan said the investigation did not find any instance of Ziegler's actions benefiting herself or any member of her family. But a government official should not act on a matter "that affects a business of which the official or official's spouse is an officer or a director. That's what the law prohibits."

Former Court of Appeals Judge David Deininger will preside over the hearing, scheduled for May 17 at the Dane County Courthouse.

The Ethics Board forwarded its findings to the state Judicial Commission and urged it conduct its own review of Ziegler's conduct. In addition, the Judicial Commission is considering a request from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign to investigate conflict-of-interest concerns about Justice-elect Ziegler.

The WDC request is expected to be handled during closed session, and commission proceedings are confidential. Commission executive director Jim Alexander said the body will not announce its decision after the April 20 hearing. If it went ahead with the investigation, the commission would prosecute the case. The matter would ultimately go to the Supreme Court, which has the authority to reprimand, censure, suspend or remove a judge.

Ziegler attorney Dan Hildebrand said he expects to file a motion to dismiss the Ethics Board complaint "reasonably soon," arguing that the Judicial Commission, not the Ethics Board, is the body that has the authority to investigation matters regarding judicial recusal.

*See the SEB's release:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/070418ZieglerEthics.pdf

*View the complaint:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/large/070418ZieglerComplaint.pdf

*Letter from State Ethics Board director Roth Judd letter to the Wisconsin Judicial Commission:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/large/070418JuddLetter.pdf

*View the Ethics Board's preliminary findings of facts and conclusions:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/large/070418ZieglerQA.pdf

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Appeals court overturns Georgia Thompson conviction

A federal appeals court in Chicago overturned Georgia Thompson's jury convictions in connection with the Adelman Travel case after one judge ridiculed the prosecution's theory as "beyond thin."

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals judges questioned the Department of Justice's Greg Haanstad why Thompson was even prosecuted. One judge also questioned the federal government's contention there were close political ties between Doyle and Adelman. Prosecutors pointed out company executives gave to Doyle's campaign and the governor spoke at an anniversary celebration the business held.

"Now, I have to say, at least in comparison to some of the cases this court has seen, that's a pretty thin set of facts to show some type of political relationship between Governor Doyle and the people who own Adelman travel," one judge said, later adding the evidence and case against Thompson were "beyond thin."

The judges said that it appeared to them that the Adelman bid was a statistical tie with others and that the U.S. attorney's office made no distinction between political favoritism and in-state favoritism.

"So the people you think were responsible for all this horsing around are Adelman and the governor, but she carries the sack," one judge said.

Haanstad said that if the case is taken as a whole, Thompson was responsible for misappropriation of state funds and the law required that she insulate the bidding process from political ties. The panel mostly asked Hurley for confirmation that Thompson did not know of any Adelman donations to Doyle and that the Adelman bid was the least expensive of those submitted.

*See the ruling:
http://www.ca7.uscourts.gov/tmp/200XWA5O.pdf

*See the order to release Thompson:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/large/070404_Thompson_release_order.pdf

*Listen to a three-minute highlight of judges posing questions to the Haanstad:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/070405GThompsonAppeal.mp3

*Listen to the entire hearing:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/070405_Thompson_Dismissal.mp3

Michelle Jacobs, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Milwaukee, said no decision has been made on an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We convinced the jury and we convinced (U.S. District Court) Judge (Rudolph) Randa that she was guilty, but obviously we didn't convince the appeals court," Jacobs said. "Her lawyers did a very good job, and we commend them and respect the decision of the court of appeals."

Thompson attorney Stephen Hurley said he did not expect prosecutors to appeal, saying "you don't get a message much more clear than this." Hurley attended an oral argument in Chicago this morning and received news of the verdict before he completed the drive back to Madison. He said similar decisions usually take at least four months.

"I think it sounded like they didn't buy the government's theory and they didn't buy the notion that there was any evidence to support that theory," said Hurley.

*See the statement from the U.S. attorney's office:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/070405USDOJThompson.pdf

*See Hurley's statement:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/070405_Hurley_Statement.pdf

Thompson began serving an 18-month sentence Nov. 27 at a federal prison near Peoria, Ill. Randa signed an order today requiring Thompson to be released on her own recognizance. The order states she can live in the Western District of Wisconsin "pending ultimate resolution of the mandate issued by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals." The appeals court wrote in its order that a ruling would be issued in "due course" and required that Thompson be released by the close of business today.

Hurley said there would not be a civil case filed against the federal government over the prosecution.

"There is no recourse against the United States government when they are wrong. Nor apparently is there an apology," he said.

Gov. Doyle said Thompson could have her old job with the Department of Administration if she wants it and would be eligible for back pay for the time she has missed. In addition, she could be eligible for reimbursement by the state for her legal fees.

*See Doyle's statement following Thompson's conviction:
http://www.wispolitics.com/index.iml?Article=64335

*View the original indictment:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/060124travelindictment.pdf

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Wisconsin Association of Defense Lawyers Asks for New Trial for Jensen

The Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers have filed an amicus brief on behalf of former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, asking for a new trial because the Waukesha Republican's due process rights were violated during his trial. Jensen is appealing his conviction on felony misconduct in office.

The brief contends Jensen wasn't permitted to present a complete defense because the court barred him from raising evidence that others engaged in conduct similar to what he was accused of doing.

"The evidence he sought to admit was relevant and exculpatory, tending to negate the element of specific intent to obtain a dishonest advantage," wrote Kathleen Quinn, a member of WACDL's board of directors.

See the amicus brief:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/070405WACDL_Amicus_Brief.pdf

In addition, Jensen's attorneys filed a reply to the state's demand that he make restitution for legal fees paid by the Assembly. The brief says Jensen has already pledged to repay his legal debt to the Assembly "in the event his conviction is sustained on appeal," and asks Dane County Judge Steven Ebert not to intervene in the matter.

See the brief:
http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/070405Jensenfees.pdf

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