Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why He Won't Recuse Himself

The short answer is, because to do so would be an acknowledgement that he did something wrong.

I refer, of course, to Herr Goebblemann (Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman), the most recent ethically-challenged Justice to be elected to the highest court.  He accepted two years’ worth of high-priced legal counsel from the Milwaukee law firm Michael, Best & Friedrich.  Those lawyers really ought to use the Oxford comma in their business name instead of the ampersand, if you ask me….and nobody did – i.e., Michael, Best, and Friedrich.

The deal was, in essence, we’ll give you all the counsel you need on the ethics charges, and if at the end we can’t stick the taxpayers with the bill, we won’t bill you.  This is called “contingency billing” and lawyers do it all the time.  It’s the same concept as “no fee if we don’t win”.

A lot of folks like me think it’s wrong to offer a contingency arrangement for defending a sitting justice on ethics charges.  Ordinary folks like you and me would never be able to get such a deal.  If we got the can tied to our butt by the boss after being caught doing something which violates the “moral turpitude” clause (if there is one) of our employment contract, you can bet there’s not a lawyer in the state who’d take such a case on a contingency basis.

Be that as it may, lawyers are also very familiar with the concept “admission against interest”.  An example might be, if the cop pulls you over for speeding, and you say “I didn’t realize the speed limit here was 35” – you’ve sort of admitted that you were going more than 35 mph, and the cop might want to write you a ticket for inattentive driving, as well.  That’s why the best counsel when you’re pulled over for ANYTHING is to answer directly only the questions the cop asks, and not volunteer ANY other information.

For Herr Goebblemann to recuse himself from cases where Michael, Best & Friedrich are involved as counsel to the party or parties involved would be to sort of admit that taking all that free legal advice from MB+F was wrong.  Now, us ordinary non-lawyer folks know it was wrong for him to get all that free legal service, but for him to acknowledge that there even might be a QUESTION that he can’t be impartial about it would be…….yup, a sort of admission against interest.

I’m sure that some bar-admitted lawyer reading this rant could point out flaws in my logic and/or analogies.  So be it.  This is something Herr Goebblemann’s colleague, the Gut-Check Judge (Justice Annette Ziegler), knows a thing or two about.  She sat in judgment on cases involving her sugar-daddy hubby’s bank in West Bend, and said she did a “gut-check” before taking the case to see if she thought she might not be able to be impartial when dealing with a case involving hubby’s bank, and sure enough, those gut-checks never prevented her from judging a case!!!!

But you see, that’s the thing.  These folks NEVER seem to be able to determine what’s a conflict of interest, and what isn’t.

We need to help them see more clearly when they’re up for re-election.  (Which in Justice Ziegler’s case is 2017, and in Justice Gableman’s case, 2018.)


  1. Maybe I'm wrong, but don't Attorneys typically take cases on a contingency basis when they have the potential to share in a cash settlement such as a suit against an insurance company.

    Since there is no financial reward available in defending against ethics violations, one is left to wonder what other type of reward there might be.

    For appearance sake, it would have looked a lot better for Gablemen if he had paid them something...anything, for clerical and filing expenses at a minimum. But he seems to have expected to receive free legal services in any case. Who gave him that idea? Are we supposed to believe that a Supreme Court justice would be unaware of the value he was receiving? Is he pleading ignorance of the law? Really?

  2. us ordinary non-lawyer folks know it was wrong for him to get all that free legal service

    You know this with moral certainty, of course.

    Because at the time he GOT the service, MB&F did NOT agree to provide it "free." They agreed to a contingency collection of fees.

    They gambled and lost.

    Don't news people have to report the facts as they are, rather than eliding some parts?

    1. "They gambled and lost." Really? Do you really believe that?

      And, to answer your question: yes, I do beleive with moral certainty that what Goebblemann and MB+F did was WRONG. Wrong because MB+F would NEVER offer such a deal without a quid-pro-quo, and they'll get payback in spades. So they DIDN't "gamble and lose". Moral certainty is a relative thing, isn't it? It's relevant to our individual morals. Yours may be different. That's an assertion, by the way: not a judgment.

    2. Tim, it's 'just the facts': MBF gambled and lost.

      As to 'quid/quo', you are assuming that Gablemann and MBF are both morally corrupt. That MAY be true, but there's zero--zip--nada evidence of that, anyplace. Further, there ARE attorneys who actually believe that defendant deserves a good defense, no matter the compensation offered. IOW, it's possible that MBF is altruistic. (I realize that they are lawyers--which means that "MBF" and "altruistic" shouldn't be in the same sentence.)

      BTW, there is a statute which does seem to enable MBF to recover some of its costs--but that was lost when the 3-3 decision came out.

  3. "it would have looked a lot better for Gablemen if he had paid them something...anything, for clerical and filing expenses at a minimum."

    He did. He paid the costs, the contingency was for the attorney fees.