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Business group applies undue influence on state's high court

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Christine Bremer Muggli
January 28, 2008

Millions of people throughout the world have been captivated by John Grisham’s fictional legal thrillers. But his most recent book, “The Appeal,” is all too real. The story revolves around a big chemical company that has been polluting the water supply and causing cancer in the area. They are sued, lose and appeal the case to the State Supreme Court. In an attempt to win the appeal, the big chemical company recruits a candidate, finances him, manipulates him, markets him and molds him into its Supreme Court justice.


Sound familiar? It should. While fiction, Grisham’s story is happening in Wisconsin today. Big businesses, led by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, are trying to eliminate “unfriendly” justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and replace them with more “sympathetic” ones. Last year, WMC is rumored to have spent more than $3 million to elect a candidate to its liking. This year the group will likely spend even more in an effort to unseat Justice Louis Butler.


Why? Because WMC wants the views of big businesses to prevail over those of the consumer when cases go to the Wisconsin Supreme Court—and it’s trying to buy a seat on the court to make it happen. WMC wants to weaken even the most basic legal protections; stacking the deck against everyday Wisconsinites like you and me in the name of higher profits.


Any person injured by the misconduct or negligence of others should be able to seek justice, even when taking on the most powerful interests. When big corporations act irresponsibly and harm consumers, refuse to pay fair and just insurance claims, produce unsafe products, or swindle their employees and shareholders, the only way for people to hold them accountable is in our courts.


WMC knows it, and that’s why the group is doing whatever it takes to dominate the democratic process and buy the Supreme Court.


Our courts need to be fair, impartial and independent. Cases should be judged on the facts and on the law. Big businesses have a right to participate in the process, but they should not be allowed to dominate it. The Constitution was not written for them; it was written for “the people.”


So this spring when you see TV ad after TV ad after TV ad from WMC, think of whom they’re looking out for and why they’re spending millions of dollars for a Supreme Court candidate.


Christine Bremer Muggli is president of the Wisconsin Association for Justice (formerly the Wisconsin Academy of Trial Lawyers), the state’s largest voluntary organization defending the civil justice system. She can be reached at 2100 Stewart Ave., #140, Wausau, WI 54401; phone (715) 849-3200.

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