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Wisconsin DA May Ask State Supreme Court to Re-Hear Union Law Case, After Gableman Revelations

On Tuesday, I brought you the story of Wisconsin Supreme Court justice Michael Gableman, who ruled on several cases in recent years where one of the parties was represented by a law firm that provided him with thousands of dollars free legal services. Gableman never recused himself in the cases, and he now is under scrutiny for ethics violations.

The most high-profile case where the Michael Best & Friedrich law firm participated was, in fact, the case which eventually led to the implementation of the anti-union law in Wisconsin, which stripped most collective bargaining rights away from Wisconsin public employees. The lawsuit stemmed from violations of the state’s open meeting law when the anti-union measure passed through the legislature. A judge in Dane County blocked the law due to these violations, but the state Supreme Court overturned that ruling by a 4-3 decision. Gableman was the deciding vote, siding with the Scott Walker Administration, who were represented by Michael Best & Friedrich.

Because of this, the Dane County district attorney may ask to reopen the lawsuit with a new case where Gableman recuses himself from the decision.

The Dane County district attorney is considering asking the state Supreme Court to reopen his case over collective bargaining legislation without Justice Michael Gableman after learning that Gableman received two years of free legal service from an attorney involved in the case.

“We’re taking a hard look at it,” District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said Thursday. “I don’t think we have all the facts, but the ones we do have are concerning.”

Ozanne, a Democrat, said he would make a decision on what to do quickly, but declined to provide a more specific time frame.

To be clear, I doubt this will come to pass. Gableman already beat an ethics charge on these grounds with a 3-3 split decision on the Supreme Court. It’s clear that the ideological conservative faction of the court will vote in lockstep on these matters. It’s true that a 3-3 re-decision in the anti-union law case would uphold the Dane County judge’s injunction against the law, but other justices cannot force Gableman to recuse himself; only he gets to make that decision. So the likely outcome would be that the demand to re-hear the case would get rejected, or that Gableman would hear the case on a second round.

But this does throw into sharp relief the old boy’s network among Republicans in Wisconsin. The law firm contracted by the government to argue cases on their behalf is in the habit of giving free legal services to ideologically aligned state Supreme Court justices. And these kind of unseemly connections between conservative movement players and the government seem to me to be the norm in Wisconsin, not an anomaly.

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David Dayen

David Dayen