Twenty-nine Wisconsin judges are among the hundreds of thousands of people who signed petitions in favor of recalling Gov. Scott Walker from office, a newspaper analysis found.
The total represents about 12 percent of the state's approximately 250 county-level judges, according to the Gannett Wisconsin Media review. The judges who signed were from counties in all areas of the state, though Milwaukee County had the largest share with nearly one-fourth of its county judges adding their names.
None of the state's 16 appeals court judges or seven Supreme Court justices signed the petitions.
The state's Code of Judicial Conduct bars judges from participating "in the affairs, caucuses, promotions, platforms, endorsements, conventions, or activities of a political party or of a candidate for partisan office" and instructs them to avoid "the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge's activities."
But James Alexander, executive director of the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, told Gannett judges aren't explicitly prohibited from signing recall petitions.
Judges who signed defended their actions to the newspaper, saying the recall petitions only support holding an election, and do not in themselves support any political party or candidate.
"I concluded that by signing a recall petition I wasn't advocating for a particular party, I was advocating for the recall process, which I thought was completely separate and apart," Brown County Judge Mark Warpinski said.
That explanation didn't satisfy the Landmark Legal Foundation, a conservative legal advocacy organization, which sent a letter to Alexander on Tuesday requesting a probe of each of the 29 judges who signed into whether any of them are currently presiding over any case involving Walker or his administration.
"Signing a recall petition is both 'participation' and 'public' in political activity implying at a minimum the endorsement of those seeking to remove a candidate for a partisan office," the letter said. "The endorsement of sitting elected official's removal by recall election is no different than the endorsement of a candidate for office."
Janine Geske, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice and current law professor at Marquette University, told Gannett she was surprised by the number of judges who signed, despite what she's sees as their right to do so under the state's code.
“I believe the judges had the right to sign the petition, but it creates a problem with the appearance of impartiality if and when they may be called upon to decide any issues involving the governor or the Republican party,” she said.
One of them, Dane County Judge David Flanagan, has come under fire for not disclosing that he had signed a recall petition when he issued a temporary injunction blocking a Walker-backed voter identification law earlier this month. According to Media Trackers, a conservative investigative watchdog site, Flanagan signed the petition in November that his wife had circulated.
The organization similarly found that members of the Dane County District Attorney's office -- which "led the legal battle to overturn Governor Walker’s collective bargaining law" -- signed petitions as well. As with the judges, members of the district attorney's office are not specifically barred from signing onto the recall effort, the group noted.
Brown County Judge Marc Hammer, who did not sign a petition, told Gannett he accepts that his position comes with certain limitations.
"When you sign up for this job, to some extent you compromise your ability to express your own political beliefs one way or the other," said Brown County Judge Marc Hammer. "Some judges don't think it's a political statement to sign a recall petition. I just really wasn't comfortable in doing so. I think if you're asked to judge the conduct of others you need to be mindful of what your conduct is."
Walker opponents filed petitions in January to try to force a recall election to oust the Republican governor. The state elections board has set May 8 as the date for the recall, unless that date is needed for primary elections, in which case the recall election will be moved to June 5, the Associated Press reported. The Government Accountability Board has until March 30 to finish reviewing the more than 1.7 million signatures submitted to recall both Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.
As The Blaze previously reported, efforts to recall Walker stem from anger over his successful move to effectively end collective bargaining rights for most public workers.
Speaking on Fox News' "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren" Monday night, Walker described the recall effort as a "Waterloo" moment for national unions that will “invest everything possible to try and take me out to send a message.”
(H/T: Mark Belling)