Letter: Conservative WI Justice Unethically Accepted Free Legal Services From Lawyers Defending His Unethical Campaign Ad

In 2008, a conservative judge named Michael Gableman narrowly defeated incumbent Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler thanks to nearly $1.3 million in spending from right-wing interest groups and a false ad claiming that Butler unleashed a child molester upon society. This ad later became the subject of an ethics inquiry into Justice Gableman — Wisconsin law forbids judicial candidates from lying about their opponents — although the ethics case was dropped after the six remaining justices split 3-3 along party lines on whether Gableman committed misconduct.

A newly released letter, however, suggests that Gableman managed to violate ethics laws in hiring legal counsel to defend him against these allegations that he violated ethics laws:

State Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman received free legal service worth thousands of dollars from one of Wisconsin’s largest law firms as it defended him against an ethics charge, according to a letter released Thursday by the firm.

The state’s ethics code says state officials cannot receive anything of value for free because of their position. And a separate ethics code specifically for judges says they cannot accept gifts from anyone who is likely to appear before them.

A former state ethics official on Thursday said authorities should thoroughly investigate how the deal between Gableman and attorney Eric McLeod of Michael Best & Friedrich worked because Gableman did not end up paying any attorneys fees. […]

Michael Best has five cases currently before the Supreme Court. Gableman is participating in all of them. Gableman did not respond Thursday to a request for an interview.

Sadly, this is hardly the only ethical tangle to emerge on the Wisconsin Supreme Court since Gableman’s election allowed conservatives to seize control over it. With Gableman casting the key fourth vote, the court’s conservatives voted to allow corporate lobbyists to write the court’s ethics rule enabling justices to sit on cases involving their major campaign donors.