Sunday, March 30, 2008

Louis Butler -- Forget the loopholes, let's talk about candor

This week's state supreme court battle between incumbent Louis Butler and Burnett County Judge Michael Gableman is perhaps the ugliest and costliest campaign for that office. It's enough to make anyone who loves the law sick.

Instead of mano-o-mano, special interest groups have placed mudslinging ads all over the state. Butler's friends claim Gableman is a political hack who isn't as tough on crime as he claims. The challenger's people say Butler -- nicknamed "loophole Louie" -- is too liberal and sides too often with criminals over crime victims.

For their part, the two candidates seem to be trying to outgun each other on the issue of who's tougher on crime which is utterly ridiculous.

Being a supreme court justice isn't like a trial judge who gets to make evidentiary calls during a trial and in sentencing can choose incarceration, probation or a fine. True, a left sided track record and roots in the public defender network offer Gableman a fair shot at Butler who, in turn, questioned some of Gableman's calls as a north woods prosecutor.

Instead of focusing relevant issues of law and judicial philosophy, this sniping by the candidates and surrogates serves nobody. For my part I wish I could vote "none of the above."

But there is one dispositive factor which will cause me to vote for Gableman. It's a Butler ad in which the incumbent claims he's supported by 18,000 law enforcement professions.

The truth -- which is conceded in another Butler ad -- is that Butler is supported by organizations which represent 18,000 law enforcement professionals despite Gableman's support from most of the state's district attorneys and sheriffs.

That Butler would get such support isn't surprising. He tends to be a "pro labor" voice. But there's a larger issue.

Lawyers have an ethical obligation to exercise candor toward the tribunal. In plain English, it means to tell the truth. Not all 18,000 folks who belong to those groups backing Butler do so as individuals and Butler's campaign continues to run a misleading ad that implies that they do.

Yes, I know Gableman is a lawyer and a judge and has accuracy gaps of his own, but Butler is already a state supreme court justice. They're the folks who ultimately pass judgment on lawyer discipline. If anyone should be as clean as a hound's tooth, it should be Louis Butler.

Truth be told, I think Butler's a good and decent guy. But he isn't setting the right example and that alone is enough to cost him my vote.

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