Sunday, March 8, 2015

Daley not the right fit for Wisconsin Supreme Court

Next month Wisconsin voters will decide whether to keep Ann Walsh Bradley on the Wisconsin Supreme Court or replace her with James Daley, a circuit judge in Rock County.  

Both are qualified jurists.  And, frankly, sometimes Bradley's opinions can lean a bit more to the left than I like but in the judicial world agreement with another judge isn't a litmus test.  No two judges will always see the same facts and arguments in the same way.

Judge Daley is a former district attorney and had been a good circuit judge, engaging in such cutting-edge programs as treatment oriented courts.  But he has come under fire for imposing a very light sentence -- five years of probation with one year in jail -- on a convicted child abuser who severely beat two children.  Brandon Quinn was accused of hitting two children, ages seven and nine, with a hammer, spoon and spatula until they were bloody and unconscious and also striking the genitals of the seven-year-old boy,  That sentence outraged the children's mother and conservative talk show host Mark Belling said that alone makes Daley an unacceptable candidate.

Daley at sentencing noted that Quinn himself was an abused child and was repeating, as is so often the tragic case, the abuse he suffered.  

Since becoming a candidate for the Wisconsin Supreme Court Daley has been chanting a mantra that blasts Bradley because she would find parts of "Act 10" (which gutted collective bargaining rights for public employees) unconstitutional.  Not much of a surprise as Daley has received campaign support from the Republican Party of Wisconsin in what is supposed to be a nonpartisan race.

More troubling and curious is Daley's wholehearted support for requiring voters to produce photo identification at the polls, a highly partisan issue as well.  It's curious because it suggests that Daley, in exchange for Republican support, is committing himself to sustain positions that the party embraces.  This flies in the face of impartiality and judicial independence.  And that's what makes it troubling.

Judges do not live in caves shut off from the world.  It's unrealistic to expect that judges will not have personal opinions.  But there is a requirement that judges be impartial and avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

The voter ID issue is still wending its way through the courts.  It's entirely possible that it could wind up back in the hands of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  Yet here we have Judge Daley being anything but impartial about an issue he may be called upon to decide.  That's wrong.

How would you feel if you were a litigant in the voter ID case appearing in front of a judge who has all but decided the case against you?  Would you feel that judge was being fair and impartial?

Had Judge Daley ran for the Wisconsin Supreme Court without selling his soul to partisan politics he might have the right stuff.  But he didn't and doesn't.  Judicial independence and impartiality are becoming increasingly scarce.  Regardless of what Mark Belling says -- and this time his opinion is worth considering -- Daley hasn't shown us that he meets even the most minimal requirements to be a supreme court justice.

I don't always agree with Bradley but she behaves as a judge should and she has earned another term.