Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Lisa Neubauer heard 101 cases involving current or past customers of her husband's janitorial supply business, Kranz, Inc., an analysis her statements of economic interest has found.
Among the hundreds of Kranz clients listed on those statements are dozens who eventually became parties in cases that came before Neubauer, the chief justice of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. In 73 cases, Judge Neubauer sat on a case involving a public sector client (such as a municipality like the City of Kenosha or an executive department of state government such as the Department of Veterans Affairs). In 28 cases, she sat on cases involving private sector clients including Associated Bank, Froedtert Hospital, Abbot Labs, Walgreen Co., and Best Buy.
In 79 of those 101 total cases, Neubauer joined the majority in ruling in favor of a Kranz client. In 31 of those rulings, Neubauer herself wrote the majority opinion.
Wisconsin's Code of Judicial Conduct provides that "a judge shall recuse himself or herself in a proceeding when the facts and circumstances the judge knows or reasonably should know establish [that] the judge knows that he or she, individually or as a fiduciary, or the judge's spouse or minor child wherever residing, or any other member of the judge's family residing in the judge's household has an economic interest in the subject matter in controversy or in a party to the proceeding."
It is unclear whether Neubauer's husband, former Democratic Assemblyman and Wisconsin Democratic Party chairman Jeffrey Neubauer, had an "economic interest in...a party to the proceeding" at the time of those cases because Neubauer did not disclose Kranz's clients from 2010 until Jeffrey sold the business in 2017.
After Neubauer was first appointed to the Court of Appeals in late 2007 she disclosed her Kranz's clients in 2008 and 2009 on her annual statements of economic interest. However, starting in 2010 she stopped disclosing those customers, checking a box on the statements indicating that her husband stopped telling her who Kranz's customers were.
Retired Court of Appeals Chief Judge Richard Brown (who has endorsed Neubauer) told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that "her husband wanted to stop providing the information because of concerns that competitors might try to pick off customers."
It is therefore unclear whether Kranz clients listed in Neubauer's 2009 financial interest statements were still Kranz clients when Neubauer sat on cases involving them. It is also unclear how much of a "financial interest" Kranz had in those clients since Neubauer was not required to disclose how much business Kranz did with each of its customers.
The Neubauer campaign has not yet responded to a request for comment, but Neubauer herself has been highly critical of a 2010 Wisconsin Supreme Court rule that essentially allows judges to decide for themselves whether they must recuse themselves from cases--even if a donor to the judge's campaign is a party.
"This [rule] is a really important issue for our state and it goes to the same issues associated with this election," she said during a recent debate, "and that is how do we ensure that our public has confidence in our judiciary; that it is truly the independent, impartial third branch [of government] that is there for our people."
"It is anti-democratic," she continued. "It is a disregard for the public and the public's confidence in our court system. We have to have our people know that our courts are there for them and not the millions of dollars that has been spent over the last decade on our Supreme Court races."
Neubauer has been the beneficiary of hundreds of thousands of dollars of special interest money, including $350,000 from a group headed by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and $100,000 from Planned Parenthood.
As the Journal Sentinel reported, Neubauer's mother served two terms as chairwoman of the Minnesota Planned Parenthood's board and her daughter--Wisconsin Assemblywoman Greta Neubauer--is a member of this state's Planned Parenthood chapter. In 2016, Neubauer herself wrote a lengthy dissent in favor of Planned Parenthood.
She faces fellow Court of Appeals judge Brian Hagedorn in next week's Supreme Court election.
"The Neubauer family has a thirty-year track record of playing politics to gain influence, even leaving the public in the dark regarding countless potential conflicts of interest," said Hagedorn campaign manager Stephan Thompson. "Wisconsin deserves a Justice who they can hold to the highest ethical standard, and it's clear the only choice is Brian Hagedorn."
In an interview with The Devil's Advocates Radio Show earlier this month, Neubauer expressed support for changing Wisconsin's rules for judicial recusals.
"You know, at the end of the day it's all about the people's confidence in our courts," she said. "The difference me and my opponent is pretty darned significant in terms of whether the people can be confident that the next Justice will be fair, impartial, and independent."