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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    December 27, 2011

    President's Message: Restoring Confidence in Our Justice System

    In 2012, a special State Bar task force comprised of lawyers, judges, academics, and members of the public will examine specific issues affecting public trust and confidence in our state’s justice system.

    James M. Brennan

    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 85, No. 1, January 2012

    James M. Brennan

    The new year provides us the opportunity to both express gratitude and offer hope. I am proud and grateful to be a lawyer, to serve as an advocate for others. I have an abiding belief in our justice system, the infrastructure for lawyers’ work, confirmed by the professionalism and public service evident daily in courts across Wisconsin. Events over the past several years, including growing expenditures in judicial campaigns, supreme court decisions regarding recusals, and unlimited donations, have the legal profession and the public uneasy with our ability to be the fair and impartial legal system that we expect.

    There is a national dialogue continuing on these important issues. And, it is my belief, that as primary stakeholders in the future of the legal system we should embark in an informed and healthy discussion of the issues surrounding our chosen field. In 2012, I resolve to engage the bar in that discussion to address confidence in the justice system by establishing a special Task Force on Trust and Confidence in the Wisconsin justice system.

    Trust and confidence is too important to lawyers’ daily work and public service to expect the legal profession to sit on the sidelines and allow others to formulate the debate and respond in the future. Much has changed in the 10 years since the State Bar last examined public trust and confidence. Money and politics present problems for the publics’ belief in a fair and impartial judiciary. I will ask the task force to address these specific issues:

    Selection and Retention of Judges. How Wisconsin selects and retains judges and justices needs review, including whether elections should be replaced by a merit selection system, how the performance of sitting judges is fairly evaluated and communicated to the public, and how judges are retained.

    Recusal Standards. Should recusal policies and practices be reviewed in light of the ABA approach providing for a more expansive review of the judicial disqualification process?

    Judicial Intimidation. What policies and procedures should be adopted to timely respond to unfair and unwarranted public attacks on the judiciary?

    Public Outreach. Direct outreach to the public is as important as structural reforms. The task force should collaborate with the State Bar’s Public Education Committee to develop a sustaining program to enhance public knowledge and understanding of the court system.

    Working together with President-elect Kevin Klein, my intent is to appoint practicing lawyers, academics, judges, and members of the public to the task force, to begin work immediately. To be sure, other issues and challenges will surface in this process. However, 2012 will renew the State Bar’s effort to restore and enhance public trust and confidence in the justice system.


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