JS Archive

May 2008: The verdict: What was she thinking?

Mike Nichols Mike Nichols

In a 54- page opinion, the Supreme Court has publicly reprimanded one of its own, former Washington County Circuit Judge Annette Ziegler.

That’s about 53 pages too long.

Here’s what the justices would have written about their colleague if they’d been honest and concise:

Dear people of Wisconsin,

This sucks. We are in a no-win situation here.

If we whack Annette too hard, people will think she did something truly nefarious and immoral vs. merely hare-brained and careless.

They will claim to have everlasting proof that every decision she ever sits in on is somehow flawed.

If we don’t whack her hard enough, on the other hand, they’ll say we’re cutting her slack because she’s one of us and we have to sit next to her (which is a little uncomfortable, to be honest). So here’s the truth:

How naïve can you get? This is Being a Judge 101. Heck, this is Life 101. If you’re in the public eye, don’t exercise power in any way if somebody can point to a connection to your friends or your family. Don’t do it. It’s like volunteering to climb up into one of those dunk-tanks at the fair, only letting them fill it up with motor oil and, instead of a ball, handing them a bazooka.

You’ll lose every time.

And you’ll never get clean.

It won’t matter a bit that, as they call you slick and dirty, you had absolutely nothing to gain by climbing up there in the first place.

And by the way, we know it and you know it and everyone other than those blinded by partisanship, knows it. She gained nothing.

These cases involving the West Bend Savings Bank, where her husband is on the board, were legal minutia, foreclosures and collection actions that were barely contested, if at all. A first-year law student could have handled them. She made the correct rulings in all of them, and nobody smart claims otherwise. Surely, she wasn’t expecting some sort of kickback, some favor. Get real.

Annette Ziegler needs a kickback like J.B. Van Hollen needs a bodyguard.

She’s already worth more than the annual income of half of Wisconsin’s counties – combined. Her father-in-law was chairman of B.C. Ziegler investments. The woman and her family are spectacularly rich, worth millions – which never hurts, by the way, when you need to lend yourself a little money to win a campaign.

So here’s the deal. Forget the suspension or removal.

She didn’t pilfer anything. This wasn’t self-dealing. This was somebody with a ton of money not seeing the world the way normal people do.

Instead of seeing the position of a bank director as a $20,000 a year part-time job (one most Wisconsinites would kill for and need desperately right now), her husband apparently saw it as a public service to the West Bend community.

Who knows what she herself saw it as, but certainly not as anything with any financial meaning.

As she said before, the bank “is not how we make our living.”

Not even close.

The Zieglers weren’t looking for a way to suck up to a little, local bank. If anything, the little, local bank would have been sucking up to them. They’re the Zieglers.

Therefore, let it be known across this whole land that we do hereby reprimand Annette publicly because she failed to step aside when she should have and instead climbed up on the dunk-tank and put us all in a bad position and made judges in general look bad.

Now, if we could just find one of those community service jobs . . .