Thursday, May 29, 2008

Supreme Court reprimands Ziegler

Annette Ziegler damaged the public's confidence in the judiciary by hearing cases while on the Washington County bench involving a bank for which her husband served on the board of directors, the Supreme Court ruled in handing down a public reprimand to the justice.

The court noted previous findings that Ziegler didn't benefit financially from the cases, showed no signs of bias in her decisions and didn't try to conceal her family's relationship to the bank.

But the court still found in its 5-1 decision, with outgoing Justice Louis Butler in dissent, that Ziegler's failure to recuse herself in the 11 cases involved in the complaint filed against her constituted misconduct. The justices found the violations were "serious and willful" but also "inadvertent."

It's the first time in state history a sitting justice has been reprimanded by the court.

Read the decision:

"Any discipline less severe than a public reprimand would not adequately convey the gravity with which this court views Judge Ziegler's violation of a bright-line rule of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Any discipline less severe would not comport with fostering public trust and confidence in the judicial system," the justices noted, adding a more severe punishment wasn't needed.

The Judicial Commission and a judicial review panel had recommended the court reprimand Ziegler in the case, and the justice issued a statement today saying she was happy the case was now behind her.

"I am pleased the Supreme Court, the Judicial Conduct Panel and the Wisconsin Judicial Commission have all now confirmed the mistake I made was inadvertent, that neither myself, nor anyone in my family benefited financially from my participation in the cases and the cases were decided as they would have been decided by any other judge," Ziegler said in a statement.

The case began with a complaint the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign filed last year following media reports during the spring election of Ziegler's potential violations of misconduct laws by hearing the cases.

Read Ziegler's statement:

Butler wrote in his dissent he did not disagree with the choice of discipline but the "lack of sufficient evidentiary foundation for that determination."

Butler wrote he would have sent the case back to the judicial review panel for further fact finding.

"I respectfully disagree that at the one-year mark a case has become no longer worthy of ensuring the adequate evidentiary safeguards and factual foundation as required in any other case that comes before us," Butler wrote.

Ziegler didn't participate in the case.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Thompson case under investigation by DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility

The U.S. Department of Justice has acknowledged in a letter to U.S. Rep. John Conyers that its Office of Professional Responsibility has opened an investigation into four cases of alleged selective or politicized prosecution, including the case of Georgia Thompson.

The letter was posted at Talking Points Memo.

Conyers, D-N.Y., U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and two others sent a letter to the department last month urging a review of the Thompson case and three others.

Thompson was prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Steve Biskupic on a charge of steering a state contract to a travel company whose executives contributed to Gov. Jim Doyle's campaign. Thompson was convicted in 2006, but the verdict was overturned on appeal. In the opinion reversing the conviction, one appeals court judge called the evidence used to prosecute Thompson "beyond thin." Biskupic has denied that political factors played any role in the prosecutor.

Thompson was given her job back, and Doyle signed a bill last month to pay nearly $229,000 in her legal fees.

See the letter from the U.S. DOJ:


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Judge puts McGee trial on hold

A Milwaukee County judge put Michael McGee's trial on hold Tuesday morning, ordering prosecutors to translate tapes of conversations that included Arabic between a federal undercover agent and an informant to determine whether entrapment was involved in the investigation against the former alderman.

Defense attorneys argued testimony from the informant Jack Adel, who goes by several aliases, is key to the entire prosecution and the tapes suggest he conspired with the federal agent to entrap McGee. Adel ran unsuccessfully against McGee this year.

McGee's attorney, Larry Jarrett, says he believes he has evidence that shows "Adel was conspiring to harm McGee at the behest of the federal government."

Assistant DA Bruce Landgraf admitted information in the translation presents a "powerful question" the defense could raise regarding entrapment.

Following the hearing, prosecutors said they didn't translate the Arabic portions of the tape because they did not believe it was relevant. The sections of the conversations in English had been transcribed for the trial, but translations of snippets of the Arabic portions were recently provided by federal prosecutors.

Judge Dennis Moroney, clearly annoyed over the late disclosure said he was "not happy" that only "snippets" were translated.

"Many times snippets aren't fair," Moroney said.

In all, there are tapes of conversations over a 16-month period that may need to be translated before the trial can proceed. Snippets of the conversations were provided to state prosecutors by the federal government, which has its own case against McGee pending.

Moroney ordered a July hearing for an update on the translations.

With this delay, the federal case, scheduled to begin June 16, could be completed before McGee faces the state charges.

Additionally, because Moroney is scheduled to rotate into civil court in August, another state judge will try the case.

Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm said he was disappointed in the delay, but that he intends to proceed once the issue is resolved. He also said he expected prosecutors will be able to put up a solid rebuttal to any claims entrapment from the defense.


Greg Bump
JR Ross

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