July 30, 2008
Recusal Not Required
A litigant in a hotly-contested defamation suit sought the recusal of a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice on a variety of grounds that included political support of the justice by opposing counsel and the judge's appearance at a fund raiser in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. The petition was filed after the court had rendered an adverse judgment in the underlying case. The supreme court today denied the recusal motion in the attached opinion. The court determined that the justice had not sought the endorsement of counsel and did not engage in any impropriety in attending the rally:
In addition to there being no requirement that a judicial candidate disclose all contributions to his or her campaign, the record before us does not support Donohoo's assertion that Justice Butler violated his campaign promise regarding contributions. According to the materials Donohoo has submitted, Justice Butler said he would refuse contributions from parties with pending cases before the court, but would accept and disclose donations from attorneys with pending cases. From the record before us, it appears this is precisely what happened. Justice Butler accepted and disclosed a $300 contribution from Attorney Pines. As the Judicial Commission noted, Bock and
Irvings were not parties to a pending action. In addition, nowhere does Donohoo assert that Justice Butler knew that Bock or Irvings were board members of Fair Wisconsin. The code of judicial conduct does not require judicial candidates to attempt to research every possible organization with which contributors may have an affiliation. Such a requirement would be unduly burdensome to candidates for judicial office and we decline to impose it.
As to Donohoo's claim that Justice Butler acted improperly in attending the fund raiser, the Judicial Commission noted that "[j]udges and candidates for judicial office can announce their views on political and legal issues as long as they are not pledges or promises to decide cases in a certain way."
The court also was troubled by the timing of the motion. (Mike Frisch)
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