One of my classmates e-mailed me this interesting feature story
in the current issue of the Milwaukee Magazine
. Writer Geoff Davidian discusses judges hearing cases where possible conflicts of interest exist. The system used by Wisconsin is at the core of the controversy. Here's an excerpt...
The federal court system bars judges from hearing cases where they have a financial interest at stake. But Wisconsin is one of many states that have moved to a system that allows judges to decide what level of investment by them creates a conflict. In essence, Wisconsin leaves it to judges to impartially rule on whether they can be impartial in trying a case against a company in which they have an economic stake.
University of Southern California Law School professor Greg Keating calls states with a system like this "pretty lax."
Local attorney John Carter, former head of the Milwaukee County Ethics Board, says an honor system for judges does not assure citizens that justice is impartial. "It's absolutely the appearance of a conflict to sit in judgment in a case where the judge has an interest in the outcome," he charges.
The article is very provocative. I'm going to refrain from making any analytical commentary because I'm not familiar enough with the ins and outs of the Wisconsin judicial standards concerning conflicts. I'd definitely want to read more before passing any judgments on the behavior discussed in the article. It's worth a read though.