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Wisc. Judge Under Fire For Accepting Help From Pro-Voucher Groups.

A Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who played an important role in upholding Milwaukee's religious school voucher plan in 1998 is being sued by state election officials for illegally accepting campaign contributions from pro-voucher organizations.

Justice Jon Wilcox, who ran for a full term on the court in 1997, is accused of accepting illegal corporate contributions as well as individual contributions above the $10,000 state limit and of filing false campaign reports. Members of the state Elections Board said they do not believe Wilcox was personally responsible for the illegal activities, but charged that his campaign worked in close coordination with a conservative pro-voucher group called the Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation.

Days before the election, the Coalition flooded voter mailboxes with postcards purporting to compare the records of Wilcox and his opponent, Walt Kelly. In reality, the postcards were not objective voter education material but were paid for by pro-voucher forces and sought to portray Kelly as a liberal.

In late April, State School Superintendent John Benson blasted Wilcox for not recusing himself from the voucher lawsuit. "If we knew what we know now, Justice Wilcox surely would have been obligated to withdraw from the case," Benson said in a press statement. "What happened here should bother every single citizen, no matter their political persuasion."

Benson said Wilcox should have realized the source of the last-minute funds that poured into his campaign. "I think there was ample time for him to investigate and find out where all that money came from," Benson told the Wisconsin State Journal. "And it's also obvious to me you wouldn't have to be a rocket scientist to make some pretty intelligent guesses about where the money came from."

Wisconsin's Code of Judicial Conduct states that a judge must withdraw from a case "when the facts and circumstances the judge knows or reasonably should know" raise questions about his or her ability to be impartial.

In total, the Coalition gave Wilcox's campaign $200,500, with most of the money coming from outside Wisconsin. The largest single donation, $34,500, came from the American Education Reform Foundation, a pro-voucher group formerly located in Indianapolis that has since moved to Milwaukee.

In other news about state courts:

* Judge Roy Moore, who became a hero to the Religious Right when he refused to remove a Ten Commandments plaque from his courtroom in Etowah County, Ala., is one step closer to becoming chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

Moore won the Republican primary June 6, capturing 55 percent of the vote. His nearest opponent, Justice Harold See, who already sits on the court, won 30 percent. (Two other candidates split the rest.)

The New York Times reported that See, who had the backing of the state's business community, raised more than $1.1 million during the race -- four times more than Moore. However, voter turnout was light, and Moore benefited from backing by Christian conservatives. He will face Democrat Sharon Yates, a judge on the Court of Civil Appeals, this November.

Moore has promised to take his personally hand-carved plaque of the Ten Commandments to the state supreme court building if he wins.

* An Idaho judge who courted the Religious Right and stressed his support for creationism has won election to the state supreme court. Fourth District Judge Daniel Eismann defeated incumbent Kathy Silak during the May 23 election. Eismann, who campaigned on his opposition to legal abortion and support for creationism in public schools, said he would not withdraw from cases involving those issues that may reach the court.

Political analysts in Idaho said many voters were angry with Silak over a decision she wrote last October giving the federal government rights to unclaimed water in several Idaho wilderness areas.
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Publication:Church & State
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U3WI
Date:Jul 1, 2000
Words:623
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