Friday, April 20, 2007

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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