Judge in Voter ID lawsuit case signed "recall Walker" petition

MADISON -- Dane County Circuit Judge David Flanagan granted a temporary injunction Tuesday against Wisconsin's new Voter ID Law, stopping the law from taking effect for the state's April 3rd presidential primary election. It was soon discovered that Judge Flanagan had signed a "recall Walker" petition, and now, some say Judge Flanagan should have at least told everyone involved that he signed the petition, before making his ruling.

Governor Scott Walker is a defendant in the court challenge to the law requiring photo IDs to vote in Wisconsin. Judge Flanagan ordered the temporary injunction Tuesday, stopping that law. Some in the legal community were surprised at Tuesday's action.

Marquette law professor Janine Geske sat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. She believes Judge Flanagan should have disclosed the fact that he signed the recall petition before he ruled on the Voter ID issue. Then, all parties could have settled the issue before the ruling. "First of all, I know Judge Flanagan, and I have a lot of respect for him. I don't know whether there's an ethical violation. I think the fact that he signed the recall petition, and now he's deciding this case, now has political implications. I would never have signed a recall petition. That's just my personal choice, because I didn't want the issue to arise," Geske said.

Rick Essenberg heads the conservative group Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. "I'm surprised he signed a recall petition, because there's a tradition in Wisconsin that judges stay out of partisan politics, particularly if it involves taking a public position. There are some ethical rules that prohibit certain types of political activities, although they don't literally apply to signing a recall petition," Essenberg said.

Both Essenberg and Geske agree the main issue will end up being not the judge signing the petition, but the merits of the Voter ID Law.

Professor Geske expects the defendants in the Voter ID case to file a motion asking the judge to take himself off the case, and to vacate his order. The judge could then say there was no conflict here, and his order should stand. Then it will be one more issue for the court of appeals to deal with.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has said he will appeal Judge Flanagan's decision and says he's confident the law will be upheld.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin has also filed a formal complaint with the state's judicial commission to investigate Flanagan for signing a recall petition for Governor Walker.