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.


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