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Gableman’s Tough-on-Crime Message Doesn’t Match Reco

Mar. 12, 2008
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If you only watched the campaign ads, you would think that Supreme Court justices are the ultimate crime-fighters in the state. Even if that were true, you may want to think twice about Burnett County Circuit Court Judge Michael Gableman’s record as a prosecutor and judge.

The truth is Gableman has only won one felony jury prosecution in his entire career. As a judge, one-third of his rulings were overturned—a very weak record. Yet in his campaign biography, Gableman calls himself a “law and order judge” who also was “the lead prosecutor on cases as diverse as arson, sexual assault, domestic violence and white-collar crimes.”

In his campaign ads, Gableman follows the standard conservative, corporate-backed judicial playbook. Be “tough on crime.” Pose in front of a police car. Get endorsements from Republican DAs. Bash your opponent for being “soft on crime.”

Gableman was a prosecutor in Langlade and Marathon counties for three years before becoming a judge. As Ashland County DA, Gableman says, he took on arsonists. TV ads sponsored by the conservative Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) also tout his arson-slaying record, as well as other crime-fighting achievements.

But did Gableman really fight northern Wisconsin arsonists—and win? An exhaustive search of online records in Wisconsin’s Consolidated Court Automation Programs (CCAP) database only turns up one arson case that Gableman put before a jury.

And Gableman lost the case. Calls to Gableman’s campaign, the Club for Growth and WMC to confirm their campaign statements went unreturned. What about Gableman’s other tough-on-crime successes? CCAP only lists nine individual felony jury cases naming Gableman as the prosecutor in Ashland County. Although nine different case numbers are listed, only six trials took place because some of the defendants had multiple cases that were consolidated.

These felony cases involved charges such as witness intimidation, sexual assault of a child, robbery, arson, substantial battery and felony child abuse. Gableman only managed to win two of those six trials—a theft from business and a sexual assault of a child case. Five years after winning the sexual assault case, the matter was dismissed on appeal to a higher court.

That leaves Gableman with only one successfully prosecuted felony jury case. So that’s the reality behind the campaign claims. But another reality is that state Supreme Court justices aren’t really crime-fighters who lock up the bad guys and throw out the key. Rather, they apply legal precedents to cases that have been tried by juries and appealed by lawyers— both prosecutors and defense attorneys who think that their clients have been wrongly convicted. (It has been known to happen. Would you want to change places with the innocent civil servant Georgia Thompson, who was convicted by a jury and served time in prison before her case was overturned by a federal appellate court?) So while right-wing groups such as the Club for Growth and WMC want to bamboozle voters into believing that a Supreme Court justice can single-handedly toss alleged arsonists and other baddies into jail, think again. That isn’t reality.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com.


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