-By Ian Millhiser
December 20, 2011- Last week, news broke that conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman received tens of thousands of dollars worth of free legal services from a law firm defending him against charges that he ran a deceptive campaign ad in violation of state ethics law. Wisconsin judicial ethics laws prohibits judges from receiving gifts of any kind from someone who is likely to appear before them.
Nevertheless, Gableman did not simply accept these services from a law firm that frequently appears before his court, he cast the key vote in two cases argued by that law firm — including the single most contentious case heard by the state supreme court this year:
State Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman in two cases cast the deciding vote in favor of parties represented by a law firm that gave him tens of thousands of dollars of free legal services, a review of state records shows.
One of those was a high-stakes case this June that allowed Gov. Scott Walker to implement a law that all but eliminates collective bargaining for most public workers. Gableman was in the 4-3 majority that allowed Walker to prevail. Michael Best & Friedrich – the firm that defended Gableman for free in an ethics case – worked for the state and Walker’s administration in the collective bargaining case. […]
Since the firm started representing Gableman in the ethics case in July 2008, Gableman has participated in nine cases in which the court voted on substantive issues involving Michael Best clients. Gableman ruled in those clients’ favor in five of those cases – more than any other justice.
Gableman joined the state supreme court in 2008 after corporate lobbyists and other right-wing groups spent $1.3 million to elect him to his current job. Wisconsin voters are far from powerless against Gableman’s casual approach to judicial ethics, however. Because Gableman has served more than a year of his current term in elected office, Wisconsin election law allows him to be recalled.