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January 6, 2012

9to5 Files Ethics Complaint Against State Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman

Filed under: Paid Sick Days — millerlf @ 2:17 pm

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, January 6, 2012

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Lynsey Kryzwick: 646.200.5311


Ethics Breach Prevented Access to Paid Sick Days for Thousands of Milwaukeeans

MILWAUKEE – Outraged by reports that Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman received free legal services from the same law firm that appeared before him to argue against the Milwaukee paid sick days ordinance, 9to5 Milwaukee today filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Board alleging the Justice violated the state code of ethics.  The complaint, the first by a group of Wisconsinites directly hurt by decisions in cases where the Justice should have recused himself, seeks a full Board investigation, civil penalties and referral to the District Attorney for criminal prosecution.

“Justice Gableman has compromised the trust of the Wisconsinites he was elected to serve,” said Dana Schultz, Director of 9to5 Milwaukee, National Association of Working Women.  9to5 led a large and diverse coalition to successfully pass a Milwaukee referendum in 2008 enacting a Paid Sick Leave Ordinance. “By not disclosing his acceptance of this valuable gift and by not recusing himself from the decision on sick leave, Justice Gableman undermined the ability of voters of Milwaukee to receive a fair and impartial hearing before the court.”

The complaint asserts Justice Gableman’s acceptance of and failure to report a gift of free legal services from the law firm Michael Best & Friedrich, LLC, violates the state Code of Ethics for Public Officials and Employees (Chapter 19, Subchapter III of the Wisconsin Statutes).  In addition, the complaint asserts further violations of the code based on Justice Gableman’s failure to disclose and recuse himself from cases in which the Best & Friedrich appeared before him, including the suit seeking to invalidate the Milwaukee Sick Leave Ordinance.

“It is hard not to see the fee agreement between Justice Gableman and the Michael Best & Friedrich firm as a thinly disguised gift,”said William Hodes, a leading national expert on judicial ethics, in an accompanying letter to the Government Accountability Board (GAB).  “In connection with the failure to disclose the gift, the GAB can seek a civil fine and forfeiture (including disgorgement) through the court.  For the other violations, the GAB may make a criminal referral to the appropriate prosecuting authority, which may be especially appropriate in this case in order to deter future similar assaults on the impartiality and integrity of the courts.”

Hodes served as Co-Reporter to the American Bar Association, Joint Commission to Evaluate the Model Code of Judicial Conduct, which produced a major revision of the CJC.  Hodes is also a  co-author of The Law of Lawyering, a leading treatise on legal ethics that is often cited by courts and ethics committees and of a chapter on “Bias, the Appearance of Bias, and Judicial Disqualification in the United States” in the internationally noted legal resource, Judiciaries in Comparative Prospective.

Shortly after 68 percent of Milwaukee voters passed a paid sick leave ordinance in 2008, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC), represented by Michael Best & Friedrich, filed an injunction on the new law.  When the injunction reached the Supreme Court in October 2010, Justice Gableman voted in favor of Michael Best & Friedrich’s client, the MMAC, to affirm an injunction prohibiting implementation of the sick days ordinance.  Unbeknownst to 9to5, between July of 2008 and June of 2010, Justice Gableman accepted the free legal services from Michael Best & Friedrich to defend himself against charges of misconduct by the Judicial Commission and before the Supreme Court.

Had Justice Gableman recused himself from the paid sick days case, the 3-3 judgment which deadlocked the Supreme Court and forced further delays in enacting the ordinance would have been avoided. Without Gableman’s vote, a 3-2 Supreme Court majority would have overturned the injunction enabling more than 120,000 Milwaukee families to receive—at least for some period of time—paid sick days.

“Because I needed to take my two-year-old son to the emergency room for a severe asthma attack, I lost my job,” said Tonisha Howard, a mother of three who lives in Milwaukee. “Having paid sick days would’ve let me keep my job and support my family without needing additional assistance.”  Following the loss of that job, Tonisha has had to work two part-time jobs, neither of which offers paid sick days.

“If Justice Gableman had recused himself from the case, as he should have, hard-working Milwaukee families would have had the paid sick days they needed and voted for,” Schultz said.

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