Embattled Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman has been hit with another ethics complaint — this time from the group that defended Milwaukee's mandatory sick leave ordinance.
The group 9to5 Milwaukee alleges that Gableman violated state ethics laws when he accepted free legal services from Michael Best & Friedrich, a high-powered law firm with offices in Madison and Milwaukee.
The group is asking the state Government Accountability Board to investigate the financial arrangement between Gableman and the firm. The complaint alleges the deal may violate state law prohibiting public officials from using their positions for financial gain or accepting anything of value that could influence their decisions. Gableman also did not report the arrangement on his annual statement of financial interests.
Michael Best & Friedrich represented the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce in its legal challenge to the referendum passed by Milwaukee voters in 2008 requiring businesses to provide paid sick leave to employees.
In 2010, the case made its way to the state Supreme Court, where Gableman ruled against the ordinance in a deadlocked 3-3 decision, with one justice recusing. Had Gableman stepped off the case, the sick leave ordinance would have been upheld on a 3-2 vote.
"It was really outrageous to have Gableman sitting there, knowing he had this big gift from our opponents," said Dana Schultz, local director of the 9to5 National Association of Working Women.
The deadlock sent the case back to the state Court of Appeals, which lifted the injunction keeping the ordinance from taking effect. But soon after, the GOP-run Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker enacted a law prohibiting local governments from imposing sick leave requirements on employers.
At the time of the sick leave case, Michael Best & Friedrich was representing Gableman in a Wisconsin Judicial Commission complaint, which ultimately was dropped after the Supreme Court minus Gableman deadlocked 3-3 on whether to discipline him.
In its complaint, the group includes an opinion from William Hodes, a nationally known legal ethicist from Florida. Hodes called the contingency fee arrangement between Gableman and Michael Best & Friedrich "a thinly disguised gift" since the firm didn't bill Gableman and was unlikely ever to recoup its fees from the state.
An email message with Gableman's Washington, D.C., attorney, Viet Dinh, was not immediately returned.
The 9to5 complaint is at least the third lodged against Gableman related to the Michael Best & Friedrich deal. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign has filed complaints with the GAB and the Wisconsin Judicial Commission.