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Watchdog Group Tells Gableman to Pull His Sleazy, False Ad

It’s “unbecoming a sitting judge”

Mar. 19, 2008
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What's worse than being bombarded with campaign ads from secretive, independent front groups in the final weeks before an election? Being bombarded with a “disgraceful and deliberately misleading ad” actually sponsored by a candidate for the state Supreme Court himself.

The TV spot, produced and approved by Burnett County Judge Michael Gableman, criticizes state Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler for serving as public defender for Reuben Lee Mitchell, who had been convicted of a sex crime. Butler had gotten Mitchell’s conviction overturned, but his conviction was reinstated by the state Supreme Court.

Mitchell served out his sentence in full. Gableman’s ad claims that Butler, as a public defender, “worked to put criminals on the street.” In a statement, Darrin Schmitz, a consultant to the Gableman campaign, defended the ad as “factual” and said it merely points out the “stark contrasts” in the candidates’ experiences.

But according to the Wisconsin Judicial Campaign Integrity Committee (WJCIC), a nonpartisan watchdog group composed of prominent Republicans and Democrats monitoring this year’s Supreme Court race, Gableman’s attack ad is so sleazy and false that it should be pulled from the airwaves.

“The WJCIC believes that the tone and content of Judge Gableman’s advertisement are unbecoming a sitting judge and a candidate for our state’s highest court,” the group said in a statement. “We also believe this disgraceful and deliberately misleading ad is a gross violation of the pledge Judge Gableman made Wisconsin voters on Feb. 21, 2008, to ‘refrain from personal attacks on my opponent.’”

The WJCIC criticized Gableman—who is running as a law-and-order candidate for the state’s highest court despite his weak record on criminal prosecutions—for injecting race-baiting into the campaign. Both Justice Butler and Mitchell are African American.

The WJCIC said the ad was in “an offensive, race-baiting style reminiscent of the infamous ‘Willie Horton’ advertisement” that stirred up racist fears in the 1988 presidential campaign. The group went even further by saying that Gableman is either not intelligent enough to understand the role of a defense attorney or is deliberately lying about Butler’s role in the case: “We believe Judge Gableman is deliberately misrepresenting the facts regarding this case and Justice Butler’s role in it, and it appears Judge Gableman is doing so either knowingly or with reckless disregard for the truth or falsity of his campaign statements.”

Even right-wing radio host Charlie Sykes had to “throw a flag on our own team” and called the ad “misleading.” The WJCIC has also criticized two ads produced by the pro-Gableman group Coalition for America’s Families because they contained lies about Butler’s record.

Last week, the Shepherd reported that pro-Gableman ads touting the judge’s record of fighting arsonists were wildly overblown. Gableman prosecuted only one arsonist and lost that case.

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