Vol. 81, No. 6, June
Thank You and Farewell
We've made good progress on the three initiatives I laid out for
this year: access to justice, unauthorized practice of law, and the
Integrity Committee. I plan to focus my time now on judicial election
by Thomas J. Basting
Judging from some of the letters I've received lately, I'm sure that
a few of you also
are saying "and good riddance." However, I also know that many
of you have expressed
appreciation for the efforts I made on three issues this past year. So
it is time for me to pass the
gavel to Diane Diel to lead this great organization in the coming year.
Thanks go out to all of
you who voted for me two years ago and who, by doing so, expressed
confidence in my
leadership. Thanks also go out to the many new friends I've made on the
Board of Governors and for
the board's confidence in me.
Although I've said this many times over this last year, I extend
my thanks to
George Brown and the entire staff at the State Bar of Wisconsin. George
and his staff have helped
to make this bar association one of the best in the nation.
When I gave my inaugural speech in Milwaukee one short year ago,
I spoke of three
initiatives for the coming year: access to justice, the unauthorized
practice of law (UPL), and
the Wisconsin Judicial Integrity Committee. Now, one year later, the
access to justice petition
is almost ready for filing with the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The Board
of Governors adopted
all of the recommendations of the Access to Justice Committee, and the
State Bar and other
groups and individuals were successful in getting the governor and
legislature to finally
provide some state funding for civil legal services for the poor. The
UPL petition was filed and
argued and is pending for decision by the supreme court this fall. I
hope the court will
finally define the practice of law and provide a sensible means of
protecting the public from
people who harm consumers by practicing law without a license.
Last year all seven Wisconsin Supreme Court justices signed a
letter in support of
public financing for judicial campaigns. In their letter to the
legislature, they said: "The
risk inherent in any non-publicly funded judicial election for this
court is that the public
may inaccurately perceive a justice as beholden to individuals or groups
that contribute to his
or her campaign. Judges must not only be fair, neutral, impartial and
also should be so perceived by the public."
Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the legislature failed to
that will change after next fall's elections.
Judicial election reform is badly needed in Wisconsin. The
Integrity Committee will continue with the assistance of the State Bar
to educate the public,
engage judicial candidates to sign a fair campaign agreement, and
comment on unfair and
misleading judicial campaign ads.
In this last supreme court election special interest groups paid
for 90 percent of
the ads in the campaign. Those ads and one ad produced by the successful
campaign essentially were designed to mislead voters and present
caricatures rather than true
pictures of the candidates. Public funding would give judicial
candidates an opportunity to respond
to such attack ads on a level playing field.
So, as you might have guessed by now, although I leave you as
State Bar president, I
am not going away. I intend to dedicate my time in the future to
judicial election reform.
No issue is more important to our profession. If the public loses its
trust in the courts, or
if the public feels that judges are not fair and impartial but are
beholden only to special
interest groups and their campaign contributors, then our entire system
of justice is in peril.
I ask you to join me in that effort. Join me as we debate the
issues of merit
selection, public financing of judicial campaigns, disclosure of
contributors, and the need for
more rigorous judicial recusal rules. And when that debate is over and a
clear path to
change emerges, join me in making that change a reality.