Author: Attorney Patrick J. Fiedler
Phone: (608) 257-0945
On June 27, 2017, the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued its decision in The Honorable William M. Gabler, Sr. v. Crime Victims Rights Board. The Court held that the Crime Victims Rights Board (“CVRB”) does not have the authority to sanction a judge and that certain provisions of Wis. Stats. Chap. 950 are unconstitutional with respect to judges. I had the privilege of representing Judge Gabler.
An abbreviated factual history of the case is necessary in order to understand the context of the actions by the CVRB. In late July of 2011, the Eau Claire County District Attorneys Office (“DA”) filed a criminal complaint alleging that Leigh M. Beebe sexually assaulted K.L., a minor. The DA then filed an amended complaint in early August adding charges against Beebe alleging sexual assault of K.H., also a minor. In December, Judge Gabler granted Beebe’s motion to sever the charges and ordered separate trials for the charges involving each victim. In January 2012, a jury convicted Beebe of sexually assaulting K.L. Subsequently, Judge Gabler scheduled Beebe’s trial on the charges involving K.H. for August 2012. The DA then asked Judge Gabler to sentence Beebe on the conviction involving K.L. Judge Gabler considered the DA’s arguments and then issued a reasoned decision denying the State’s request. In August 2012, Beebe entered a plea and was convicted of sexually assaulting K.H. In October, Judge Gabler then imposed a sentence on the separate convictions which were still contained in the same case.
On October 23, 2012, Judge Gabler received a complaint from the CVRB alleging that his decision to postpone the sentencing relating to the sexual assault of K.L. violated her right to a speedy disposition under Wisconsin Statutes and her right to a timely disposition under the Wisconsin Constitution. Judge Gabler and I submitted responses to the complaint. Ultimately, in July of 2013, the CVRB issued its decision and determined that Judge Gabler violated K.L’s statutory and constitutional rights and issued a Report and Recommendation directed to Gabler.
Judge Gabler filed an action in circuit court seeking review of the Board’s decision. The Eau Claire Circuit Court reversed the Board’s decision and remanded the matter to the CVRB with instructions to dismiss with prejudice the complaint against Judge Gabler. The CVRB appealed, and the Supreme Court granted Judge Gabler’s petition to bypass the court of appeals.
On appeal before the Supreme Court, we raised both the constitutional argument that the actions of the CVRB violated the separation of powers as well as numerous procedural errors by the CVRB in its prosecution of Judge Gabler. The Court found it unnecessary to address the procedural errors stating that this case raises a fundamental constitutional question:
“May an executive agency, acting pursuant to authority delegated by the legislature, review a Wisconsin court’s exercise of discretion, declare its application of the law to be in error, and then sanction the judge for making a decision the agency disfavors? Applying separation of powers principles, we conclude that the answer to this question is unequivocally no.”
The Supreme Court held that certain statutes contained in Chap. 950 are unconstitutional as applied to judges and declared that the Board’s Decision against Judge Gabler was void. Thus, the Court’s decision applies not only to Judge Gabler but also as to every judge in the State of Wisconsin. This case is an important reaffirmation of the necessity of an independent judiciary.