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    President's Message: 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 Wisconsin Judicial Integrity Committee. I plan to focus my time now on judicial election reform.

    Thomas J. Basting Jr.

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    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 81, No. 6, June 2008

    President's Message

    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 Wisconsin Judicial Integrity Committee. I plan to focus my time now on judicial election reform.

    Tom Bastingby Thomas J. Basting Sr.

    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 non-partisan but also should be so perceived by the public."

    Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the legislature failed to respond. Hopefully that will change after next fall's elections.

    Judicial election reform is badly needed in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Judicial 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 candidate's 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.