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In Wisconsin, Judges Can Have Opinions, Journalists Can’t


Pre-2011 Gannett Logo

The Gannett media group, which owns several newspapers in Wisconsin, broke the story a few weeks ago that 29 Wisconsin Circuit Court Judges signed the recall petitions for Governor Scott Walker. The state’s code of judicial conduct says, “No judge or candidate for judicial office or judge-elect may….participate in the affairs, caucuses, promotions, platforms, endorsements, conventions or activities of a political party or of a candidate for partisan office.” The code also bars judges from being members of a political party, or soliciting funds for a candidate or party, along with a vague instruction to avoid “the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge’s activities.” Wow, Wisconsin has stricter rules than we have for our Supreme Court justices.

Prior to signing the recall petitions, several judges contacted the Wisconsin Judicial Commission’s executive director, Jim Alexander, to make sure they could do so without violating the rules. Alexander told them that the petitions were not covered by the code.

But, exposing the signing of the petition by the judges apparently upset a few people (three guesses) and it has now been disclosed that 25 employees of the Gannett group also signed the petition.

The editors-in-chief of the Gannett papers in Wisconsin have issued apologies for the conduct of their staff members, saying that signing the petitions violated Gannett’s code of ethics. The employees will be facing disciplinary action. Kevin Corrado, publisher of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, also told readers that no one involved in disclosing the judges or in “our news or political coverage” had signed the petition.

The journalists told Corrado that they considered signing the petition equivalent to voting, something they are able to do without violating any ethics codes. Corrado said that the media group considered it a matter of becoming personally involved in the story.

Naturally, Walker’s supporters are having a ball with this news. They sent out a fundraising e-mail that read “The liberal powers that be in the news media and the judiciary are determined to do whatever they can to empower liberal and leftist causes, ideals and candidates…We simply can’t let ethically challenged judges or journalists defeat us in the fight to save our country.” The e-mail linked, not to a Walker website, but to Don’t you love the language on that one? Such a perfect example of the right wing propaganda that has persuaded far too many Americans that we are in eminent danger of being turned into the Soviet Union if we have labor unions and increase taxes on the super rich. Dwight Eisenhower must be spinning in his grave.




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