Yang vs. Wales; Should Judges Recuse?
Wales says yes if parties to case gave $1,000 donation, Yang undecided.
Scott Wales and Kashoua “Kristy” Yang are competing for the Branch 47 judicial seat now held by Milwaukee County Circuit Judge John Siefert. This is the only contested Milwaukee County judicial race this year. Wales and Yang agreed to answer a series of questions from WJI to better inform voters about issues in the race.
The question: Do you support the 54 retired judges’ proposal to require any circuit court judge to recuse him/herself from cases involving donors and indirect supporters who contribute $1,000 or more to the judge’s election effort? (The limit for appeals court and Supreme Court judges would be $2,500 and $10,000, respectively).
I support the 54 retired judges’ proposal to require any circuit court judge to recuse him/herself from cases involving donors and indirect supporters who contribute $1,000 or more to a judge’s election effort. The reason is simple: it is to have a fair and impartial judiciary. Individual contributions of $1,000.00 or more undeniably taint the credibility of the courts and create the narrative (i.e. if not the reality) that judges can be bought which is another way of saying that justice is for sale.
Scott Wales has almost 30 years of experience and specializes in criminal law. He also is Fox Point Municipal judge, a post he has held for more than eight years.
Kashoua “Kristy” Yang:
On the surface, this question could be thought of as a no-brainer. Of course, judges should recuse themselves from cases of individuals who contributed to their campaigns.
While the proposal of the 54 judges is a good start, it is unknown and I hesitate to speculate that the proposed donation limits would have any effect on the public’s trust and confidence in the legal system and/or the judges’ abilities to remain impartial. Candidates for the Judiciary in Wisconsin are not allowed to participate or solicit funds for their campaigns in any way. However, they can attend fundraisers set up by their campaigns and thus are aware of the marketing of those fundraisers.
If mandatory recusal becomes the norm, then the rule prohibiting judicial candidates from directly soliciting donations should also be revisited. In theory, the candidate is said to be “in the dark” about those who contribute to their campaign. Campaign financial reports list donors and the candidate is required by law to file them. All candidates know who contributed to their campaigns.
The real question that arises is whether justice is for sale. The legal community continues to struggle with the public’s trust and confidence in the legal system, and no doubt the question of whether justice is for sale does not help in that regard.
In 2011, the American Bar Association adopted a resolution that recommended states clearly articulate how a judge must disqualify himself or herself from a case. It covers the issue of donor contributions.
We must also consider the cynical attorney who contributes handsomely to judges because they don’t want those judges to hear their cases. This is one example of how the recusal process could be abused, I’m sure there are others.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court with input from the legal community should establish clear guidelines identifying conflicts of interest on the topic of donors to judicial candidates. So, while it may seem to be a no-brainer, there are issues that complicate what might appear to be simple.
Kristy Yang is the owner of Kashoua Yang, LLC, a law firm that concentrates on family law, family mediation, worker’s compensation, and social security disability. Yang was selected as a Super Lawyer Rising Star for the years 2013-2016.
Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and encouraging civic engagement in and debate about the judicial system and its operation.”