The attorneys present during these comments indicated it was not clear to whom they were directed, but I have to believe the warnings were directed at attorneys for the State.
As reported by JSOnline (emphasis mine):
Before wrapping up a brief hearing Wednesday, Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi offered a word of caution to attorneys involved in high-profile lawsuits over collective bargaining in Wisconsin.
Sumi said emotions are running high over two cases she is hearing regarding Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to eliminate most collective bargaining for public workers. That “spirited debate” is important in a democracy, but attorneys must keep in mind their professional ethics, Sumi said.
“They all have a responsibility to promote and not denigrate the judicial branch and, more importantly, the rule of law,” she said.
She advised lawyers to review state Supreme Court rules that say: “A lawyer shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge….”
She referred to public comments made by attorneys after a Tuesday hearing, but did not elaborate.
I have not seen any comments by attorneys in the case which rise to the level in the rule cited above. Attorneys are free to criticize the content of a ruling by a Judge, and as I have documented, there was plenty to criticize in the Judge Sumi’s decision to interfere in the legislative process by attempting to prevent a bill from becoming law.
I find it disturbing that Judge Sumi issued this warning, which carries the threat of a Bar disciplinary referral. This is tantamount to the nuclear option, by putting attorney licenses to practice on the line.
Such a warning necessarily is one-sided, since only the attorneys unhappy with a court’s rulings would comment negatively. Such a warning allows the winning side, so far the Democrats, to crow all day long about the court rulings, while muffling the ability of the Republicans to explain why such rulings were unjustified.
This is a highly political case which has been made even more political by the court’s rulings. Absent comments which impugn Judge Sumi’s integrity or make false statements about her, the attorneys in the case should be free to comment.
Updtate 3-31-2011: Judge Sumi Rules Budget Repair Bill Not In Effect