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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, December 9, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judicial Bias Questioned in Probe of Gov. Walker

MADISON, Wis. (CN) - The judges of the Wisconsin Supreme Court face a call to recuse themselves from a case concerning benefactors they share with Gov. Scott Walker.

The Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute at New York University's School of Law, made the argument in an amicus brief that supports neither party to the probe into Walker's campaign finances.

Special prosecutor Francis Schmitz's underlying motion for recusal cites "ethical concerns."

In a statement on the brief, the Brennan Center notes that three groups - the Wisconsin Club for Growth, Citizens for a Strong America, and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce - are under investigation for possibly violating campaign-finance laws in funding Walker's 2010 general and 2012 recall elections.

"These same special interest groups also reportedly spent millions in support of the election campaigns of four of the state's Supreme Court justices, who are now hearing a constitutional challenge to the John Doe investigation," the Brennan Center says.

In its brief, the group asks that the Wisconsin Supreme Court follow the standards that the U.S. Supreme Court set in the 2009 decision Caperton v. Massey, which says a judge may be required to recuse in the event a litigant has provided them with "significant campaign support."

"Notably, the Wisconsin Supreme Court amended the state's code of judicial conduct in 2010 to specifically exclude campaign contributions and independent expenditures as bases for recusal in Wisconsin," the press release states.

The so-called John Doe probe at hand is a function of Wisconsin law that allows prosecutors to gather information to determine whether a crime was committed and who may have been involved.

An earlier probe, John Doe I, resulted in the conviction of six of Walker's aides.

John Doe proceedings and documents are sealed, but the current investigation has continued in fits and starts, thanks in part to U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa's injunction canceling the investigation - a ruling that the 7th Circuit stayed the next day and eventually overturned.

Wisconsin Club for Growth has sued in Waukesha County Circuit Court to halt the investigation, claiming the Government Accountability Board is legally overreaching.

Amici in the brief are NYU School of Law professors Barbara Gillers and Stephen Gillers, as well as Lawrence Fox, a visiting lecturer in law at Yale Law School; Northwestern University School of Law professor Steven Lubet; Indiana University School of Law professor Charles Geyh; and Fordham Law School professor Bruce Green.

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