A former state Supreme Court justice has filed a complaint against Madison attorney Joel Bruce Winnig for comments he made while running for state Supreme Court.
Donald Steinmetz, who served on the court from 1980 to 1999, has asked the Office of Lawyer Regulation to find that Winnig, in his comments about Justice Michael Gableman, violated an ethical standard that attorneys "maintain the respect due to courts of justice and judicial officers."
According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story that Steinmetz attached to his complaint, Winnig ripped Gableman at a Feb. 9 press conference, saying, "He is a cancer on the body politic and he should be removed." Steinmetz called this "a vitriolic, personal attack" for which Winnig "should be publicly condemned in the strongest terms."
Winnig, who a few days later came in fourth place in a four-way primary, only recently became aware of this complaint and believes, based on his contacts with OLR, that it will be dismissed: "I have a First Amendment right that they can limit only in compelling circumstances."
Steinmetz, in a phone interview, says "I don't like to cause trouble for anybody" but reiterates his objection to Winnig's comments: "To say anything like that about another person is just going too far."
Ironically, the issue over which candidate Winnig was calling for Gableman's ouster concerned claims made by Gableman in 2008 when he was running for election against a Supreme Court justice. Gableman aired a misleading ad about incumbent Justice Louis Butler's prior representation of a sex offender, back when Butler was a public defender.
The ad drew an ethics complaint from the state Judicial Commission. The Supreme Court deadlocked 3-3 on whether to pursue discipline against Gableman, with even his High Court supporters calling the ad "distasteful." Does Steinmetz, as a self-styled enforcer of lawyerly decorum, also find fault with Gableman?
Not so much.
"To tell the truth, I had some discussions with Louis Butler," says Steinmetz, 87. "I didn't think he should be on the court at all. I read some of his decisions, and they were terrible." Steinmetz cites a ruling Butler wrote in a controversial lead-paint liability case; he acknowledges that Butler was writing for a 4-2 majority but says, "He was on a bad majority."
And as for Gableman's ad, Steinmetz says Butler "did represent someone who ultimately committed another crime" - even if he did not, as implied, spring him to do it.
"What Gableman was saying was he [Butler] represented people of that nature," says Steinmetz. "I don't think he should have. I think he should be saying this is the wrong type of person to be going all guns for to get out of getting convicted of a crime."
Imagine if the OLR were to enforce that ethical standard: the one that requires defense attorneys to do a lousy job when representing bad guys. Attempts to reach Butler were not successful.
Winnig, in an email to OLR, said his comments were meant to counteract "the negative impact that Michael Gableman has had on the legal profession, the courts and the state" with his ad about Butler. And he suggested that Steinmetz "should be supporting my attempts to undo the damage done, by joining me in urging Michael Gableman to resign."
Who wants to be a prosecutor?
Assistant Dane County District Attorney Tim Kiefer is leaving his job next month to open his own criminal defense practice, in downtown Madison. Credit for this act of job creation goes to Gov. Scott Walker.
"The events at the state Capitol in recent months...were the deciding factor in my decision to leave state employment," Kiefer, an assistant district attorney since early 2007, wrote in an email (PDF) to his soon-to-be-former colleagues. "The present time is one of great uncertainty and stress for Wisconsin prosecutors.
"We were all recently threatened with being reduced to 80% part-time prosecutors. Our take-home pay is being cut due to unpaid furloughs and increases in health insurance premiums and retirement contributions. Several of the new attorneys in our office do not even have health insurance coverage. Pay progression has once again been rejected. Our union may soon cease to exist for all practical purposes."
Kiefer, who mounted bids for state Assembly and the job of Dane County DA, says prosecutors are already leaving due to these developments, continuing a trend of high turnover.
"Of my 33 attorney colleagues in this office, just 19 were working here when I started four and one-half years ago," he wrote. "While new attorneys bring enthusiasm and dedication to their work, there is no substitute for experience when prosecuting serious crimes or untangling complex legal dilemmas."
Assessing the damages
First it was $7.5 million. Then $347,000. Then, on May 13, the state Department of Administration's estimate for the cost of damage to the state Capitol caused by recent protests was downsized again, to $270,000, including just $161,000 for interior repair. Now even this figure is being criticized as too high.
Jacob Arndt of Northwestern Masonry & Stone, a Lake Mills-based company that's done work for the state, says his review of a report by historical architect Charles Quagliana leads him to conclude that at least some of the damage appears to be normal wear and tear, not recent, or otherwise unrelated to the protests. He calls the report "clearly a political effort to discredit the opposition and then a consequent effort to save face by inventing damage that is not there."
Quagliana takes umbrage at such talk, saying he made every effort to be fair and straightforward in identifying recent damage. "He could be right," he says of Arndt's claim that some of the damage may predate the protests. "It could be from December. It could be from March. I don't think anybody can say with certainty. All we can say is that it's recent."
An even harsher critique of the DOA's new estimate was made via press release by state Rep. Terese Berceau (D-Madison), who said the episode "highlights the incompetence and deceitfulness that are hallmarks of the Walker Regime," adding that the credibility of Walker and DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch is "in far worse condition than any section of the Capitol building, and in fact may be beyond repair."
Bikes banned from Picnic Point
Bill Barker says "it's something we wish we didn't have to do." But efforts made over the last several years to get bicyclists to slow down, be more considerate, and avoid adjacent paths didn't seem to work.
So starting this Saturday, May 28, bikes will be banned from the main path that runs the length of Picnic Point, on the UW-Madison campus.
"We were sending a mixed message," says Barker, chair of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve Committee, which made the change. "We were saying it's okay to bike on this path but not on these other ones. Now we're saying, 'You can't bike here at all."
Gary Brown, director of the preserve, says there's been no recorded accidents but "a lot of close calls" involving bicyclists. He was "definitely surprised" at the uniformity of agreement at a public meeting in March that Madison has plenty of better places to bike.
Tony Fernandez, a city project engineer who's helped plan many a Madison bike path, sent a personal note to the committee, urging it to "greatly restrict or prohibit bike access to Picnic Point." He said the path's "extreme narrowness" leads to inevitable conflicts with walkers.
"I never thought I'd be on this side of a biking issue, but I say no wheels on Picnic Point."
He's still there
If you miss him already, and by golly why not, know that former Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz has found a new home - as a blogger for Isthmus. "Citizen Dave" launched on Monday, with the mayor declaring his intention to write about cities - his own and others. Find him at TheDailyPage.com/citizendave.