Justices Divided on Changing Judicial Commission


Wisconsin’s Supreme Court justices are divided over a proposal to change the process appointing members to the commission that oversees judicial discipline cases.

The Wisconsin Judicial Commission is responsible for investigating violations of the state’s judicial ethics code and recommending sanctions for judges who break the rules. Most recently, it charged Justice David Prosser with a violation for placing his hands around Justice Ann Walsh Bradley’s neck in June of 2011.

At the court’s open administrative conference Wednesday, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson proposed that the court make its appointments to the commission in open session to assure the public that the process is free of partisan or personal politics on the court. Justice Prosser strongly opposed the proposal saying, “I am not prepared to give away any power to a committee that is totally obscure and not accountable for what they’re doing.”

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Both Justice Patience Roggensack and Justice Annette Ziegler also opposed making commission appointments in an open meeting, suggesting that it would discourage people from joining the commission if they knew they their qualifications would be publicly vetted. However, Justice Patrick Crooks and Justice Bradley backed the open appointment proposal. Bradley said the public would welcome more transparency in court procedures. “I think that this proposal takes things out of the back room and puts it a little sunlight in it. Isn’t sunshine the best disinfectant? I think that it is.”

The Supreme Court is responsible for appointing four of the nine members on the judicial commission. The governor appoints the other five, and his appointments must be confirmed by the state Senate. The court will vote next week on whether to hold a public hearing on the proposal to make the court’s appointments to the commission a public process.