Wisconsin judge presiding over lawsuit against union law allegedly signs Walker recall petition

In a surprising turn of events, it has been revealed that the judge presiding over the case involving unions’ challenge against Wisconsin’s law that restricts collective bargaining for public workers may have signed a petition back in 2011 to recall then-Governor Scott Walker. This revelation has raised concerns about potential bias in the judge’s decision-making process, as it suggests a personal stake in the outcome of the case. The unions are seeking to have the law overturned, citing their dissatisfaction with its restrictions on their collective bargaining rights. This new information adds an interesting twist to the proceedings and raises questions about the judge’s impartiality.

Dane County Circuit Judge Jacob Frost’s name and signature are present on the petition, which corresponds to an address where he resided at the time, as per property records. The signature of his now-wife is just below his. The signature was initially brought to light by conservative WISN-AM radio show host Dan O’Donnell, who reported on it late Tuesday.

In 2020, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers appointed Frost to the bench. This appointment came after Evers defeated Walker in 2018. Back in 2011, during the recall petition, Frost was working as a private practice attorney, having recently graduated from law school in 2010.

Frost appeared in court on Wednesday and did not promptly return a message left at his office.

Judge Frost held a hearing on Tuesday afternoon in response to a motion filed by the Republican-controlled Legislature. He mentioned that he will make a decision in the upcoming weeks.

During his time as governor, Walker’s legacy was primarily shaped by the enactment of a significant piece of legislation known as Act 10 in 2011. This law had far-reaching implications as it effectively put an end to collective bargaining for almost all public employees.

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Anger over the law prompted an initiative to remove Walker from his position. Sufficient signatures were collected, resulting in a 2012 recall election, which Walker emerged victorious from. Building on this triumph and his clash with unions, he later made an unsuccessful attempt at securing the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

Evers, the former state education secretary in 2011, also added his signature to the recall petition. In a statement to reporters on Wednesday, he expressed his belief that Frost should not recuse himself from the case solely on the grounds that he had signed the petition.

According to Evers, recusal is seen as a significant setback for the judiciary. Instead, Evers suggests that we should allow the process to unfold naturally and trust in the system’s ability to function as intended. It is essential for everyone to remain calm and let the system run its course.

Over twenty Wisconsin judges had signed the recall petition, according to a review conducted by Gannett Wisconsin Media. These judges maintain that their actions were protected by the constitution and were not in violation of the Wisconsin Code of Judicial Conduct.

According to the code, there is no explicit mention of recall petitions. However, it does state that judges are prohibited from engaging in any political party or candidate-related activities and should strive to avoid any actions that may give rise to the perception of impropriety.

In the past, there have been cases where a judge who signed a petition has presided over a lawsuit connected to a law supported by Walker.

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Then-Dane County Judge David Flanagan, who signed the petition, received backlash for not disclosing his support of the recall when he issued a temporary restraining order against a voter ID law backed by Walker. The Wisconsin Republican Party lodged a complaint with the state Judicial Commission, contending that Flanagan should have disclosed his signature on the petition.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz, who played a significant role in shifting the majority control of the seven-person court in favor of liberals with her victory in 2023, has also added her signature to the recall petition. During the campaign, she expressed her belief that Act 10 is unconstitutional and stated that she would consider recusing herself from any case that challenges it.

The case that Frost is overseeing is expected to reach the state Supreme Court.

According to the lawsuit filed by the unions, they argue that the law unfairly grants exemptions to firefighters and other law enforcement agencies, while still imposing its effects on almost all other public employees.

The attorneys representing the suing unions and the Legislature did not respond to messages seeking comment regarding Frost’s apparent petition signature.

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