A state agency tasked with monitoring judicial misconduct in Wisconsin has filed a complaint over a television ad that aired earlier this year in support of Michael Gableman, who now sits on the state’s Supreme Court.
The Wisconsin Judicial Commission filed the complaint with the Wisconsin Supreme Court, charging that Gableman, who was then a judge of the Burnett County Circuit Court, wrongfully mischaracterized his opponent’s role in the release of a convicted child rapist.
The statements, which were depicted in a television ad, violate misconduct rules that candidates should not “knowingly, or with reckless disregard for the statement’s truth or falsity, misrepresent the identity, qualifications, present position, or other fact concerning the candidate or an opponent,” according to the complaint, which was made available on the Justice at Stake Campaign’s Web site. Wisconsin Judicial Commission v. Gableman, No. 2008AP002458 – J (Wis.).
James Alexander, executive director of the commission, which is based in Madison, Wis., said the complaint was the first filed by the agency involving misconduct in a judicial election. He declined to comment further. A spokesman for Gableman, in an e-mailed statement, said the complaint has no merit and disregards a candidate’s freedom of speech under the First Amendment.
“The Commission chose to ignore the plain language of the ad, which is factual,” said Darrin Schmitz, Gableman’s spokesman. “Instead, the complaint alleges that the ad contains false statements on the basis of inference and implication. The First Amendment does not allow a claim to be made on that basis.”
In the ad, Gableman’s campaign implies that then-Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler, the incumbent running against him, “found a loophole” that lead to the release of a convicted child rapist, Reuben Lee Mitchell, who “went on to molest another child,” the complaint states.
In fact, according to the complaint, Butler was an assistant public defender for the state when he represented Mitchell in his appeal of his conviction in the late 1980s. The Wisconsin Supreme Court concluded that Mitchell’s conviction was wrought with errors involving evidence but, in the end, affirmed his conviction. Mitchell was released on parole in 1992 and convicted on a sexual assault charge three years later.
“The Advertisement directly implied and was intended to convey the message that action or conduct of Louis Butler enabled or resulted in Mitchell’s release and Mitchell’s subsequent commission of a criminal molestation,” the complaint states. “Each of these statements of fact constituting the message is false.”