• WisPolitics


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

 10:26 AM 

Butler, Gableman continue to trade barbs over ad at debate

Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler said Tuesday night it was an embarrassment to the public that his opponent had run a TV ad suggesting his actions led to a child molester being freed to offend again.

But Burnett County Judge Michael Gableman countered the ad fairly contrasts the backgrounds between the two, pointing out Butler spent time as a public defender earlier in his career while he had served as a prosecutor.

"My opponent spent his former career working for the Reuben Lee Mitchells of the world," Gableman said, referring to the molester featured in the spot.

Butler criticized Gableman for making the decision to run the ad, saying it was a poor reflection on his opponent's campaign.

"Quite frankly it's disgusting, and it's embarrassing, and it should not have gone up in the first place," Butler said.

Gableman's ad referred to the case of Mitchell, who was convicted of raping an 11-year old girl. The narrator in the spot says, "Butler found a loophole; Mitchell went on to molest another child."

Butler was Mitchell's public defender and appealed his conviction. While he won at the appeals court, the Supreme Court reinstated the conviction, and Mitchell served his sentence. Following his parole, he committed the second offense.

Gableman spent much of the hour long debate touting his experience as a former prosecutor and a judge, the cornerstone of his campaign. He said he had worked "shoulder to shoulder" with victims of crime and law enforcement officials in seeking justice. He repeatedly pointed out that Butler had worked as a public defender and promised he would be a judicial conservative who wouldn't legislate from the bench if elected April 1. He also took a swipe at Butler over a newspaper report from the weekend that showed he had received contributions from a lawyer with a case pending before the Supreme Court.

Butler countered Gableman's punch by pointing out the donations were allowed under judicial codes and he had gone out of his way to disclose contributions to those with business before the court. He said he was proud to have worked as a public defender, saying it was an important part of the judicial system and providing a good defense forced prosecutors to strive to be better.

Butler questioned Gableman's decision to run the Mitchell ad several times during the debate, urging voters to look at the ads the two campaigns have run. He said he has remained positive throughout the campaign, but "I wish I could say the same for my opponent" and challenged Gableman to take responsibility for the inappropriateness of his TV ad. He encouraged voters to ignore the spots from outside groups and use the campaigns own spots to evaluate the two.

The two continued to trade barbs throughout the hour long debate about the Mitchell ad as well as those run by outside groups.

Butler noted all seven sitting justices had signed a letter supporting public financing for Supreme Court races because the system had become so broken. He noted last year's race was generally panned by those who watched it for its negative tone and this year's race was no better.

"We do believe we have to do something to fix this system where these outside groups are basically launching an assault on our justice system as we know it and the independence of our judiciary system," Butler said.

Gableman questioned how anyone who may challenge such a system before the court could expect to get a fair shake considering the justice's state support.

He also called it disingenuous for Butler to complain about the tone of the race when the liberal-leaning Greater Wisconsin Committee ran the first TV ad of the campaign attacking his integrity. He said the group has spent "every nickel" since then attacking him and was the biggest spender in the race so far. He also said it was disingenuous for Butler to complain he had been the recipient of more attacks than he had when the "facts simply show otherwise."

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign released a report Tuesday that showed outside groups had spent an estimated $1.8 million on the Supreme Court race through March 16. The report showed the GWC had spent $603,000, making it the biggest spender of the four outside groups that had weighed in on the race through the middle of March.

But the Club for Growth, the Coalition for America's Families and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce -- all of which have run pro-Gableman or anti-Butler spots -- had combined to spend $1.2 million.

A Gableman campaign consultant said afterward that the judge had meant to say the GWC had spent the most on attacks in the race.

Butler said the only way to end such attacks was for voters to reject them next week.

"If we want to change the tenor of this, the only way we're going to do that is to show that we're not going to accept it," Butler said. "That falls on every single voter in the state."

Gableman refused to back away from the claims made in his first TV ad, pointing out Butler said in his unsuccessful bid for the court in 2000 that a candidate's background was "fair game" in a Supreme Court race. He said the spot was a fair examination of those backgrounds.

"If we can't talk about our professional background, if we can't talk about our judicial philosophies, then what on Earth can we talk about in this race?" he said.

The debate was co-sponsored by the Wisconsin State Bar, WisPolitics.com, the Wisconsin State Journal, the Wisconsin Radio Network and The Wisconsin Law Journal. It was moderated by Wisconsin Public Radio's Joy Cardin and Shawn Johnson.

Watch a Webcast of the debate: http://www.wisbar.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=state_bar_events&TEMPLATE=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&contentid=70645#

-- By JR Ross

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