Fair Courts E-lert: Retired WI Judges Propose Recusal Rules; Groups Plan to Support New SCOTUS Nominee

January 13, 2017


Retired WI Judges Ask State High Court for Stronger Recusal Standards

A group of 54 retired Wisconsin judges urged the Wisconsin Supreme Court to adopt stricter recusal requirements triggered by spending in judicial elections, writes Patrick Marley and Bill Glauber for the Milwaukee Journal  Sentinel. The judges asked “the court to draw a ‘bright line’ on conflicts of interest,” which would require trial court judges “to step aside if they received $1,000 or more from a litigant or attorney in a case” and a “threshold [of] $2,500 for appeals judges and $10,000 for Supreme Court judges.” According to the authors, these limits would also “apply to donations to issue groups that spend heavily in Supreme Court races.” Rick Esenberg of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty said that “the proposal went too far” and that “[g]roups would be less likely to weigh in on races if they thought doing so could change the makeup of the court for key cases.” However, the authors of the proposal explain that “[a]s money in elections becomes more predominant, citizens rightfully ask whether justice is for sale.” Retired trial court Judge Mike Skwierawski added: “At some level, you have to hope that the integrity of the court system becomes the highest priority for the Supreme Court. Not just keep the money flowing.”


Conservative Groups Plan Media Campaign Supporting New SCOTUS Nominee

Conservative groups are planning a media campaign to support the confirmation of whoever Donald Trump nominates to the U.S. Supreme Court, writes Burgess Everett for Politico. According to Everett, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D – N.Y.) said “his caucus will oppose high-court nominees that are not ‘mainstream’” and “would ‘absolutely’ try and keep the seat vacant.” Senate Republicans “will need at least eight Democrats to break a filibuster on a Supreme Court nominee.” Conservative groups, including the Judicial Crisis Network, are planning ads “urging a number of moderate Senate Democrats to support Trump’s choice.” JCN’s Chief Counsel Carrie Severino said: “We are preparing to launch the most robust campaign for a Supreme Court nominee in history and we will force vulnerable Senators up for re-election in 2018 like Joe Donnelly and Claire McCaskill to decide between keeping their Senate seats or following Chuck Schumer’s liberal, obstructionist agenda.” Everett also writes that “there will be intense pressure from liberals to block any of Trump’s nominees after McConnell’s unprecedented strategy of denying Obama’s efforts to fill Scalia’s seat.”

SCOTUS Hears Dispute Over Court Fees for Exonerated Defendants

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Monday in Nelson v. Colorado, a case asking if courts are required to refund the fees paid by those convicted of crimes and then exonerated, writes the Associated Press. According to the author: “The case involves two people whose convictions for sexual offenses were later thrown out. One had paid about $700 toward the court fees and victim restitution while the other paid more than $4,400 in similar costs.” They are challenging a Colorado Supreme Court decision that “the defendants could not get a refund unless they proved their innocence by clear and convincing evidence in a separate proceeding.” The author states“[m]ost justices hearing arguments in the case on Monday seemed concerned that refusing to refund the money violates due process rights.” Justice Elena Kagan said “it seems ‘the most natural, obvious thing in the world to say that the state’s right to that money evaporates’ when a conviction is overturned.” Chief Justice John Roberts also said that “while the state can’t give the defendants back the time they spent in jail, ‘you can give them the money back.’” 


Opinion: New Mexico Court Needs Additional Funding

An op-ed appearing in the NM Political Report by state senator Pete Campos (D – Las Vegas) called on the New Mexico Legislature to increase funding to the state judiciary. Campos details some of the harms caused by insufficient funding, including reduced operating hours for magistrate courts, reduced services available from drug and mental health courts, and insufficient staff and funding for public defenders offices. He explains that cases are also being delayed, stating that “[b]usinesses and individuals must wait longer to resolve civil lawsuits, including landlord-tenant disputes, divorces and damage claims for injuries in accidents.” Chief Justice Charles Daniels of the New Mexico Supreme Court similarly said the courts “are now basically on life support through the end of this fiscal year.” While Campos says “[t]he judiciary has done its part by trimming costs in a time of austere budgets and shrinking state revenues,” he believes “[d]oing more with less is no longer possible.” Campos says a moderate step would be “to require that at least 3 percent of the state’s annual budget be allocated for court operations.” He concludes that “[t]imely access to justice and a properly functioning court system benefits everyone.”