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Monday, February 12, 2018

Stronger Judicial Recusal Rules Vital for an Impartial State Judiciary






By Jay Heck

Wisconsin, from statehood in 1848 to about a decade ago, in 2007, had a national reputation for having among the most respected, impartial, non-partisan, fair and trusted state court systems in the nation. Much of this was because there was a generally-held belief among all Wisconsinites of all political persuasions and ideologies that the courts should be “above politics as usual.” In order to maintain the confidence of the citizenry, judges and justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court had to be scrupulously non-partisan and impartial and not be perceived as having been compromised by outside lobbying pressure, campaign contributions, or other political influence.

For decades, this standard not only survived, but flourished and as recently as the early 2000’s the Wisconsin Supreme Court was held up by legal experts across the country as the “gold standard” for how Justices should be elected and serve once in office in a state supreme court. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals, the 72 county circuit courts and the hundreds of municipal court judges also were perceived as having the highest standards for impartiality, non-partisanship and fairness across the state. And while Wisconsin legislators fell into public disrepute in the aftermath of the worst political scandal in the state in a century – the Legislative Caucus Scandal of 2001-2002, the reputation of state courts were not only unaffected by the legislative scandal, but enhanced in their execution of equal justice under the law.