Republican party files complaint against judge in voter ID case

2012-03-08T08:00:00Z 2012-05-23T17:34:03Z Republican party files complaint against judge in voter ID caseED TRELEVEN | Wisconsin State Journal | etreleven@madison.com | 608-252-6134 madison.com

The state Republican Party filed a complaint Wednesday against Dane County Circuit Judge David Flanagan, claiming that Flanagan should have told the parties involved in a lawsuit against the state voter ID law that he had signed a petition to recall Gov. Scott Walker.

The complaint, filed with the state Judicial Commission, alleges that by signing the petition, "the judge seemingly made a public statement against the defendant and the voter ID law in question in the case, and thus removed his ability to appear in an impartial manner."

It urges that the Judicial Commission investigate the allegations and punish Flanagan for alleged state law and Supreme Court rules violations.

Flanagan issued a temporary injunction on Tuesday that bars the further implementation of photo ID requirements in the state voter ID law. The case was brought by the Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP and Voces de la Frontera, also a Milwaukee group, who sued Walker and the state Government Accountability Board.

The GOP complaint, filed by lawyer Kristina Sesek, alleges that because recall group United Wisconsin made the voter ID law one of its "Top Ten Reasons to Recall Scott Walker," Flanagan's "public demonstration of his distaste for Gov. Walker calls into question his appearance of impropriety, especially to persons with knowledge of the facts and circumstances surrounding the case."

The complaint alleges that Flanagan violated state statues and Supreme Court rules by failing to recuse himself from a case when he could no longer maintain the appearance of neutrality.

Dana Brueck, spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice, which is representing Walker and the GAB in court, said DOJ is not commenting on the issue. A statement Tuesday by Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen on its appeal of Flanagan's order did not mention the recall petition issue.

The GAB said it plans to discuss an appeal of Flanagan's ruling at its meeting on Monday.

Richard Saks, one of the lawyers representing the NAACP and Voces, said Wednesday it was Flanagan's choice whether to disclose to the parties in the case that he signed the recall petition.

He said state Supreme Court rules don't prohibit judges from signing such petitions or voting in elections because they are fundamental rights. He said the rules do prohibit endorsing political candidates or raising money for them.

He said Flanagan could have disclosed signing the petition, "but it begs the question whether it was necessary to disclose it because the petition was a public record, anyway."

DOJ had ample opportunities to object to Flanagan's participation in the case, he said, and noted that Flanagan had ruled against the NAACP and Voces in a decision just last month.

"I don't know whether (DOJ) knew that at the time, but they certainly had no problem with the judge then," he said.

Saks also questioned whether Flanagan has a conflict of interest because Walker is being sued in his role as chief executive of Wisconsin, not in an individual and personal capacity. He said that ultimately, it's not an issue.

"It doesn't matter who was governor," Saks said. "We were going to sue the governor no matter who he was."

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