Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Recusal' Category

Probate Judge Defends Chief Justice Moore, Urges Defiant Vote

alabama-flag-descriptionAn Alabama probate judge is urging the state’s highest court to defy the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent marriage equality ruling and for Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who has recused himself, to cast a vote.

Washington County Probate Judge Nick Williams also staunchly defended Moore against an ethics complaint recently lodged by the Southern Poverty Law Center (see Gavel Grab for background), saying the complaint appeared aimed at influencing the Alabama justices and that it should not have been made public, according to an article.

Moore has argued publicly against marriage for same-sex couples and in February, he ordered Alabama probate judges to ignore a federal court ruling that had declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. He has attracted widespread national media attention for his outspoken views. Read more

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Judge Dismisses Lawsuit by Former Chief Justice Abrahamson

U.S. District Court Judge James Peterson has dismissed a lawsuit by former Wisconsin Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, contending that she cannot be removed from the role of chief justice at midterm, following voter approval this year of a constitutional amendment that allows members of the Supreme Court to choose the chief.

“Unless its actions are plainly unconstitutional, Wisconsin has the authority and autonomy to restructure its government without interference from the federal government,” Peterson wrote, according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

The court’s conservatives, in an email vote, recently selected Justice Patience Roggensack as the new chief. There also were these other news media pieces about court-related developments in Wisconsin: Read more

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Prosser Denies Recusal Was Warranted

Seal_of_the_Supreme_Court_of_Wisconsin.svgWisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser “issued a 15-page opinion explaining why he believed he could participate” in the recent campaign finance decision involving Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-recall campaign, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.  Prosser joined the majority of the court in the “John Doe” case, when it ruled that no campaign finance laws were violated by the anti-recall campaign and several conservative groups that were alleged to have coordinated their activities.  The same groups spent significant sums to benefit Prosser’s supreme court campaign and the campaigns of other justices in the majority, and a special prosecutor asked Prosser and another justice to recuse themselves from the case.  Neither did so. (See Gavel Grab.)

“Prosser wrote that outside spending to help him was ‘very valuable to my campaign’ but did not rise to a level that would require him to step down from the challenge to the investigation of those groups,” according to the Journal-Sentinel.

Meanwhile, critics of the Wisconsin high court’s ruling are urging prosecutors to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming that the justices who benefited from outside spending, but did not recuse themselves, may have had an unconstitutional conflict of interest.   (See Gavel Grab).

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Op-Ed: WI Prosecutors Should Appeal ‘John Doe’ Case to SCOTUS

In a strongly-worded column for Newsweek, Billy Corriher and Maya Efrati of Legal Progress urge prosecutors in Wisconsin’s recent “John Doe” campaign finance case to appeal the ruling of the Wisconsin_flag_mapstate Supreme Court in that case.

The ruling in the “John Doe” case  effectively halted further investigation of alleged collusion between Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-recall campaign and conservative groups, when the court decided that  there were no violations of campaign finance laws (see Gavel Grab). But Corriher and Efrati argue that because several justices on the court benefited from millions of dollars in campaign spending by those same conservative groups, “Prosecutors have a strong argument that the Wisconsin justices had an unconstitutional conflict of interest.” They argue that the justices who benefited from the spending should have recused themselves, and that since they did not, there are grounds for appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The writers also suggest that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Caperton v. AT Massey Coal Co. Inc. should serve as a meaningful precedent.  “Caperton has not yet been applied by any lower court to require recusal,” they note. “But if the decision means anything, it must apply to the Wisconsin decision.”


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Opinion: Wisconsin Court Rightly Labeled a ‘Political Body’?

A New Yorker commentary by Lincoln Caplan takes a critical look at the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s recent ruling that quashed a campaign finance investigation involving Gov. Scott Walker, and it suggests the ruling may have national implications.

You can learn more from Gavel Grab about how the issue of judicial recusal was handled in the 4-2 ruling. Caplan wrote this about recusal:  “The highly political nature of the election, or reëlection, of the court’s conservative justices, between 2007 and 2013, and the highly political nature of their rejection of the traditional recusal rule have for half a decade made the court vulnerable to charges that it has become a political body. With their decision to halt a major criminal investigation of the sitting governor, who is running for President, and to do so by gutting the state law regulating campaign finance, the conservatives have confirmed the weight of those charges.” Read more

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Wisconsin ‘John Doe’ Ruling Stirs Ongoing Controversy

630px-Seal_of_WisconsinThe Wisconsin Supreme Court’s ruling that there were no violations of campaign finance laws by Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-recall campaign and conservative groups continues to stir controversy on both sides. The ruling in the “John Doe” case  effectively halted further investigation of the alleged collusion.

In a scorching commentary supporting the ruling, The National Review Online  said the investigation of alleged violations was nothing short of a “witch hunt” perpetrated by state Democrats.  A report in the Wisconsin State Journal noted that the Wisconsin court’s majority described the investigation as a “dragnet” involving “highly publicized raids” of private homes.

But a piece in the LaCrosse Tribune  focused on the failure of several state Supreme Court justices to recuse themselves, although they had benefited from millions of dollars in campaign spending by the same conservative groups at the center of the case.  Prosecutors might have the option to appeal the ruling in federal court, the Tribune suggested, citing legal experts who named the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2009 ruling in the landmark Caperton case as a possible precedent.

In the same Tribune piece a conservative legal scholar disagreed, noting that “if elected judges had to recuse themselves from cases involving groups that donate to their campaigns, then so would judges who were targets of campaign spending,” according to the report.  Rick Esenberg of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty told the paper that if a broad view of the Caperton decision were adopted, “‘it’s basically impossible to have judicial elections’ because there will always be an array of political parties supporting or opposing judges.”

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WI Court Ends Campaign Probe; JASC Highlights Recusal Reform

Wisconsin_flag_mapThe Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled on Thursday there were no violations of campaign finance laws by Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign and conservative groups in 2011 and 2012 recall elections, likely ending a state campaign finance investigation.  Justice at Stake Campaign Deputy Executive Director Liz Seaton made the following statement:

“Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court justices should never have had to find themselves in the position of hearing a case involving groups that spent millions to help elect some of them. When this happens, it goes to the core of current problems plaguing elections of judges. 

“With this newest controversy, the Wisconsin Supreme Court becomes a national example for those urging a serious look at reforms to minimize the influence of money in politics in judicial selection. Where states elect their judges, these reforms must include robust judicial recusal rules.”

Read more

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Federal Judge’s Recusal at Center of Lawsuit Against Hospital

There are more legal ripples involving a federal appeals court judge who, when he was the focus of an investigation by the Justice Department’s ethics unit several years ago, established a legal defense fund (see Gavel Grab).

The National Law Journal reports (in an article available by searching Google), “Judge Bybee Recusal at Center of Doctor’s Suit Against Hospital.” It says a doctor who is suing the hospital where he formerly practiced contends that Judge Jay Bybee of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals influenced a court panel ruling adverse to the doctor even though Bybee, after initially declining a request by the doctor to recuse from the panel in the case, later did step aside. Read more

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Opposing Sides Don’t Seek Recusal of Judge in Hastert Case

Both the prosecution and defense involved in former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s criminal proceedings have given notice they do not object to U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin continuing to preside over the case.

Judge Durkin had openly discussed issues that might lead a party to seek his recusal when he presided over Hastert’s arraignment earlier this week (see Gavel Grab). They included his donating, as a lawyer in private practice, $1,500 to Hastert congressional campaigns and his having worked in private practice with Hastert’s son. The judge said he was confident he could handle the case impartially.

According to Politico, Judge Durkin will continue to preside over the proceedings against Hastert.

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Judge in Hastert Case Vows Impartiality, Yet May Recuse

Judge Durkin

Judge Durkin

The federal district court judge conducting former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s arraignment, who as a private lawyer had donated $1,500 to Hastert campaigns, openly addressed issues about fair and impartial courts on Tuesday.

Judge Thomas Durkin, according to Politico, “announced at the hearing that he was provisionally recusing himself due to several personal and family ties to Hastert, Hastert’s relatives and the Republican Party, as well as lawyers on both the defense and prosecution teams.” He also said that if both sides concurred, his recusal could be waived. The judge said he was confident he could be impartial.

The Washington Post reported on the proceeding in a somewhat different manner, saying Judge Durkin “acknowledged that the potential appearance of a conflict of interest created grounds for disqualification. Durkin gave Hastert and prosecutors until Thursday to review his disclosures and determine whether to waive his offer to step aside.”

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