Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne has asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling from earlier this year that upheld Governor Scott Walker's controversial collective bargaining law. Ozanne argues that Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman should have disclosed that he received thousands of dollars worth of free legal advice from the law firm of Michael Best and Friedrich in 2008. Michael Best and Friedrich is the same firm that successfully defended the collective bargaining law against Ozanne's original suit, which argued that the law was passed in violation of Wisconsin's open meetings laws.
Walker's law eliminated collective bargaining rights for most public employees in Wisconsin and sparked massive protests and several state senate recall elections after Governor Scott Walker submitted it to the state legislature in February, 2011. Recall efforts against Walker are now underway and volunteer petition circulators have almost certainly gathered enough signatures to force an election against Walker in the Spring.
The law had been overturned by Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi, but the highly partisan Supreme Court voted 4 - 3 to overturn Sumi's decision and allow the law to be put into effect. Ozanne's new motion asks that Sumi's decision be reinstated.
Justice Gableman received the free legal services in connection with an ethics charge he faced after his campaign aired blatantly false ads against his incumbent opponent, Louis Butler, during the non-partisan state Supreme Court race in 2008.
It was recently revealed that Gableman had an arrangement with Michael Best and Friedrich that stipulated Gableman would only pay the law firm if he won his ethics case and was able to get the state to reimburse him for legal expenses.
The 7-member Supreme Court (without Gableman voting) tied on the ethics charges 3 - 3, meaning that Gableman was not found to have violated the ethics code. Since Gableman did not "win", however, he was not eligible to have the state pay his legal fees, so Michael Best and Friedrich never billed Gableman and Gableman paid them nothing. Estimates of the value of the legal services are in the tens of thousands of dollars.
State officials are prohibited from accepting free gifts, and the state judicial ethics code prohibits judges from accepting gifts from anyone likely to appear before them. Gableman is now facing new ethics complaints about his 2008 arrangement with Michael Best and Friedrich. About the arrangement Ozanne wrote in his new court filings:
His agreement with MBF ensured that he would remain whole: He would owe $0 for legal fees if he won and $0 for legal fees if he did not win...MFB and McLeod knew that they had provided free legal representation to Justice Gableman. Justice Gableman knew it too.
It was also just revealed that the lawyer from Michael Best and Friedrich who provided the free services to Gableman in 2008 abruptly resigned from Governor Walker's judicial selection committee last week, shortly after details of his firm's previous arrangement with Gableman were made public.
Ozanne wants the court to reconsider its earlier decision and disqualify Gableman from participating in any new rulings on the case. It is unlikely that Ozanne will have the Supreme Court ruling overturned, though. Even with Gableman out, the court would likely vote on partisan lines on his request to reopen the case 3 - 3, meaning the case would not be reopened and the original Supreme Court ruling upholding the collective bargaining law would stay in place. Given the stark violation of the ethics code by Gableman, however, Ozanne almost had to make the request.
All of this dirty laundry being aired in public will not help Scott Walker as he tries to hold on to his seat during a recall election.