Fewer elections for top court would restore civility, public trust, special task force says

2013-06-29T05:30:00Z Fewer elections for top court would restore civility, public trust, special task force saysSTEVEN VERBURG | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6118

Limiting Wisconsin Supreme Court justices to a single 16-year term would help restore public confidence in a court whose image has been battered by increasingly savage political campaigns fueled by a rising tide of money, a special task force of attorneys says.

The state Bar of Wisconsin panel wants to see a constitutional amendment introduced this fall to change the system that allows justices to run for unlimited 10-year terms, said Joe Troy, a former circuit judge who led an 18-month study that resulted in the proposal.

“The campaigns have become so brutal,” Troy said. “The sitting justice is attacked and demeaned, and the challenger is attacked and demeaned. The public sees that and thinks we must not have very good justices.”

The proposed term limits aren’t a cure-all, but they would help restore public trust in the system, Troy said.

“No justice, once elected, would ever be elected again,” Troy said. “The perception that they are there serving the people (with money) who put them there, or they are worried about the next election, that’s just not going to happen.”

Constitutional amendments require passage in two consecutive Legislatures before going to the voters.

Troy said political leaders from both major parties objected to an earlier plan involving appointing justices, but so far they’ve been open-minded and intrigued by term limits.

Gov. Scott Walker, House Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, weren’t available for comment late Friday. Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, said the plan could be promising.

Troy said members of the Supreme Court also have been briefed on the plan and have offered suggestions.

Former Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske said term limits could be a good start to repairing the court’s reputation.

“My concern is the vast amount of money that is being spent and the way it’s being spent on ads that aren’t relevant to the duties and responsibilities of the job,” said Geske, a Marquette University law professor. “They take one opinion out of a justice’s whole career and that becomes the total issue in the campaign. This proposal would diminish that.”

Wisconsin Supreme Court justices — seen as divided along liberal and conservative lines — have been widely criticized in recent years for alleged ethical lapses and interpersonal squabbling.

In the most prominent case, Justice David Prosser put his hands on the neck of fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley after he says she aggressively approached him during an argument.

Justice Michael Gableman was formally charged with running campaign advertisements that broke an ethics rule because they so badly distorted his opponent’s record. Gableman later faced criticism because he accepted free legal services from a law firm and then continued to take part in cases involving the firm.

The proposed Constitutional amendment wouldn’t fix problems of the current court — in fact each of the sitting justices would be allowed to run for one more term of 16 years under the proposal, Troy said.

“This would be a better system for our children to live under,” Troy said.

One source of tension on the current court is that justices from one faction believe members of the other faction are helping their electoral opponents, Troy said. That would be less of a problem for justices who can’t run for re-election, he said.

The intense negativity of election campaigns may continue unless a change in campaign finance laws is accomplished, but at least there would be fewer campaigns, and no re-elections, Troy said.

Term limits could embolden more and better candidates to run, said Tom Shriner, a member of the state bar committee.

“You would attract candidates who would say, ‘I’ll put myself and my family through that once, and try to make a mark as a member of the court, and then do something else,’” Shriner said.

Geske said the proposal would limit the role of special interest groups.

“The special interests on both sides of the aisle believing they have some influence over the justices, that would be gone,” Geske said. “I like that part of it.”

Troy said he will ask the governing board of the state bar to endorse the plan before beginning to seek support from other groups and individuals, including lawmakers.

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(18) Comments

  1. Cornelius Gotchberg
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    Cornelius Gotchberg - July 04, 2013 6:39 pm

    Maybe you should reread the interview a little more carefully and with some objectivity, perhaps you may continue to believe he "did nothing," perhaps not.

    I brought it up, you countered and I'm countered back. That kind of seems like honest-to-goodness give-and-take to me; it does to me leastways.

    "And let's face it, all you're trying to do is smear him because of his politics and how spends his money." Call it what you want, but if that's the case, I'll need a ruling on the topic of Walker and the Koch Brothers.

    It would appear to even the infrequent commenter that referencing them, I suspect because of their politics and how they spend their money, absolutely dwarfs any mention of George Soros on these forums.

    If I'm "obsessed" with George Soros by virtue of my relatively infrequent mention of him, nearly all the Lefty commenters here should be certifiably insane and remanded to the Laughing Academy for their morbid and unhealthy fixation on Walker and the Koch Brothers, shouldn't they?.

    You've convinced yourself that your news sources are much more legitimate than mine (I don't watch FOXNEWS, by the way) even though you don't know what my sources are. And you default to the (stupid) ones whose message you deem unworthy.

    That is intellectual laziness, which is cheap and the path of least resistance, just like talk.

    Happy 4th of July to you and yours notwithstanding.

    The Gotch

  2. buckthorn
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    buckthorn - July 04, 2013 1:50 pm
    So he didn't actually do anything. And he was 14, for goodness sake, and in a situation that none of us has ever been in, or could even imagine. How would you have behaved if you were in his place? Talk is cheap. And let's face it, all you're trying to do is smear him because of his politics and how spends his money. That's what's really happening here. You brought it up entirely out of context because you just felt like tarring him with something akin to "nazi collaboration". Why don't you just stick to the discussion and topic at hand, have an honest-to-goodness give-and- take with people, and stop trying to prove how much you think you know because you watch 60 Minutes, or Fox News, or read any number of stupid right-wing disinformation web sites. Anyone who is so obsessed with George Soros probably doesn't have enough to do.
  3. Report Abuse
    - June 30, 2013 10:16 am
    Let's not kid ourselves. Tthis is NOT a special task force. This is a Special interest group with an agenda. this is intended to attempt to swing the court away from it's current conservative majority.
  4. Report Abuse
    - June 30, 2013 10:11 am
    completely disagree. One of the main incentives for an elected official to act reasoonable is the hope of getting re-elected.
  5. Report Abuse
    - June 30, 2013 10:08 am
    I agree. Our high court should serve the law...not the electors. This will get rid of politics on the court and paybacks to poltical supporters
  6. Cornelius Gotchberg
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    Cornelius Gotchberg - June 30, 2013 9:16 am

    Pretty strong words there, big guy.

    Based on your "analysis," CBS' "60 Minutes," Steve Kroft, their advertisers & affiliates,and Uncle Georgie himself are now part of the "right-wing disinformation machine."

    Still think I'm with them? If I'm not, should I be the one feeling shame?

    (Excerpted from Steve Kroft/George Soros interview [aired 12/20/1998]; some cogent points are noted with ***)

    KROFT: (Voiceover) To understand the complexities and contradictions in his personality, you have to go back to the very beginning: to Budapest, where George Soros was born 68 years ago to parents who were wealthy, well-educated and Jewish.

    When the Nazis occupied Budapest in 1944, George Soros' father was a successful lawyer. He lived on an island in the Danube and liked to commute to work in a rowboat. But knowing there were problems ahead for the Jews, he decided to split his family up. He bought them forged papers and he bribed a government official to take 14-year-old George Soros in and swear that he was his Christian godson. But survival carried a heavy price tag.

    ***While hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews were being shipped off to the death camps, George Soros accompanied his phony godfather on his appointed rounds, confiscating property from the Jews.***

    (Vintage footage of Jews walking in line; man dragging little boy in line)

    KROFT: (Voiceover) These are pictures from 1944 of what happened to George Soros' friends and neighbors.

    (Vintage footage of women and men with bags over their shoulders walking; crowd by a train)

    KROFT: (Voiceover) You're a Hungarian Jew...

    Mr. SOROS: (Voiceover) Mm-hmm.

    KROFT: (Voiceover) ...who escaped the Holocaust...

    (Vintage footage of women walking by train)

    Mr. SOROS: (Voiceover) Mm-hmm.

    (Vintage footage of people getting on train)

    KROFT: (Voiceover) ... by -- by posing as a Christian.

    Mr. SOROS: (Voiceover) Right.

    (Vintage footage of women helping each other get on train; train door closing with people in boxcar)

    KROFT: (Voiceover) And you watched lots of people get shipped off to the death camps.

    Mr. SOROS: Right. I was 14 years old. And I would say that that's when my character was made.

    KROFT: In what way?

    Mr. SOROS: That one should think ahead. One should understand and -- and anticipate events and when -- when one is threatened. It was a tremendous threat of evil. I mean, it was a -- a very personal experience of evil.

    KROFT: My understanding is that you went out with this protector of yours who swore that you were his adopted godson.

    Mr. SOROS: Yes. Yes.

    ***KROFT: Went out, in fact, and helped in the confiscation of property from the Jews.***

    ***Mr. SOROS: Yes. That's right. Yes.***

    KROFT: I mean, that's -- that sounds like an experience that would send lots of people to the psychiatric couch for many, many years. Was it difficult?

    Mr. SOROS: Not -- not at all. Not at all. Maybe as a child you don't -- you don't see the connection. But it was -- it created no -- no problem at all.

    KROFT: No feeling of guilt?

    Mr. SOROS: No.

    KROFT: For example that, 'I'm Jewish and here I am, watching these people go. I could just as easily be there. I should be there.' None of that?

    Mr. SOROS: Well, of course I c -- I could be on the other side or I could be the one from whom the thing is being taken away. But there was no sense that I shouldn't be there, because that was -- well, actually, in a funny way, it's just like in markets -- that if I weren't there -- of course, I wasn't doing it, but somebody else would -- would -- would be taking it away anyhow. And it was the -- whether I was there or not, I was only a spectator, the property was being taken away. So the -- I had no role in taking away that property. So I had no sense of guilt."

    The Gotch
  7. MaCat
    Report Abuse
    MaCat - June 30, 2013 7:32 am
    I suggest that Justices be appointed by the governor from a list of nominees submitted by a State Judicial Nominating Commission. A justice serves an initial term of office that is one year after appointment and until January 1 following the next judicial retention election after expiration of such year. The regular term of office of justices retained at election is eight years. A justice must retire upon reaching the age of 72. The justices elect the chief justice. This is from a nearby state. The trick is the Commission must be non-partisan and the Governor must select from who they recommend. Personally, I don't think judges should be elected at all - it is a waste of time and money.
  8. buckthorn
    Report Abuse
    buckthorn - June 29, 2013 9:20 pm
    Really impressive, Gotch, for you to join the Soros-as-Nazi-collaborator nutcase bandwagon. That's a pretty despicable thing to write, especially when you have nothing to back it up with except the right-wing disinformation machine. Or do you have actual proof or facts to back up your claim? Shame on you.
  9. NotACynic
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    NotACynic - June 29, 2013 4:48 pm
    It's already a ten year term and they can run as many times as they want ...
  10. Cornelius Gotchberg
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    Cornelius Gotchberg - June 29, 2013 3:43 pm

    With all due respect, that is a very naive statement.

    Between his "nonprofits,"his foundations (OSI, etc.), his funded NGOs & ENGOs, and myriad shadow 527s, Soros has his hands in US politics BIG TIME.

    Anyone that thinks otherwise should probably not play with matches, be responsible for making correct change, or be left at home alone.

    While I'm not being an apologist, at least the Koch Brothers are being up front about it. Unlike Soros, the Koch Brothers have a lot of Union workers on their numerous payrolls.

    Soros did help "redistribute" the property of soon-to-be-relocated European Jews back in the early 1940's. Guess to where they were being relocated?

    The Gotch
  11. human
    Report Abuse
    human - June 29, 2013 2:51 pm
    Unlike the Kochs, Soros does not put money into elections, especially state judicial elections.
  12. jso
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    jso - June 29, 2013 2:28 pm
    This is one of the goofiest ideas ever...16 year terms? The lawyers involved must have proposed this to increase support for an appointed judiciary.
  13. Mr Mellow
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    Mr Mellow - June 29, 2013 1:37 pm
    The problems on our Supreme Court have to do with rampant partisanship and corruption. The Bar should be focusing on cleaning up the existing court, something they have abjectly failed at so far. Instead, they propose to constitutionally limit the already limited opportunities for voters to exercise their right to elect our highest judges. This punishes the voters and leaves the perps on the court untouched. Pathetic.
  14. Cornelius Gotchberg
    Report Abuse
    Cornelius Gotchberg - June 29, 2013 1:20 pm

    Hate to harsh your mellow, but The Gotch is with you on this one.

    Good to see you're coming around.

    I'd hazzard a guess George Soros use all that freed up cash to more effectively manipulate global currencies, couldn't he?

    The Gotch
  15. Bender
    Report Abuse
    Bender - June 29, 2013 12:23 pm
    Take the money out of ALL election. Bring back real democracy.
  16. mzd
    Report Abuse
    mzd - June 29, 2013 9:46 am
    We should make ALL state offices one term.
  17. amigay
    Report Abuse
    amigay - June 29, 2013 7:35 am
    Not a bad idea, but the term should be limited to perhaps 5 years. 16 years is far too long.
  18. 920Annie
    Report Abuse
    920Annie - June 29, 2013 7:19 am
    No it wouldn't, it would only extend the time allowed to one person to be combative and do further damage to our way of life. I would like 5 year term limits, and have more output Government has been allowed to act God-like for too long, we the people need to rein them in

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