Wisconsin: judicial recusal bills introduced; mandatory recusal for contributions over $1000; supreme court could force fellow justice to recuse

Several bills were introduced in December to change the way recusal would be handled in Wisconsin courts.

  • AB 585 requires a judge or justice to disqualify himself or herself from presiding over or deciding a legal proceeding or action if a reasonable person would question whether the judge or justice could act in an impartial manner.
  • AB 586 requires a judge or justice who does not disqualify himself or herself after a motion for disqualification is filed by a party in the action to file in writing the reasons he or she did not disqualify himself or herself. The bill further provides a judge or justice must file the reasons for disqualification or for deciding against disqualification within 60 days after a final judgment or final order has been issued in the action.
  • AB 588 requires a judge to disqualify himself or herself from an action if, as a candidate for judicial office and within the past four years, the judge received campaign financial support of $1,000 or more from a party to the action. Moreover, the definition of “financial support” is defined broadly to include not only campaign contributions but independent contributions made on behalf of the judge, and independent contributions made against the judge’s opponent.
  • AB 589 is limited to the Wisconsin Supreme Court and provides if a justice denies a motion to disqualify himself or herself from an action, the other members of the court may review that decision to deny the motion, and may either affirm or reverse the justice’s decision.
  • AB 590 focuses on the contributors to judicial campaigns rather than the judges. Under the plan an “interested contributor” who makes a political contribution to the campaign of a judge/justice before whom he or she has a pending civil or criminal action must disclose the contribution within 5 days to the judge and all other parties.

All five bills have been referred to the Assembly Judiciary Committee.