Court: Wisconsin Supreme Court
Case Nos.: 2021AP1321 and 2021AP1325
Status: In Briefing
WMC Involvement: Amicus
The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) unanimously approved a project to build a new high-voltage transmission line known as the Cardinal-Hickory Creek line. This transmission line would run through southwestern Wisconsin, improve energy reliability in Wisconsin, and enable greater usage of renewable energy across the Midwest. Several conservation groups intervened and urged the PSC not to approve this project. After losing in the PSC, these groups alleged that two PSC commissioners should not have participated in the approval of this project because their professional associations gave them an “appearance of bias.” The Dane County Circuit Court allowed the parties to engage in discovery. The conservation groups issued a subpoena to a PSC commissioner, demanding that he turn over his personal cell phone and password so these groups could search for possible evidence of bias.
The case is now in the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The WMC Litigation Center filed an amicus brief arguing that, under binding precedent, the “appearance of bias” standard is not the correct legal standard. Our amicus brief warned that allowing these conservation groups to engage in a fishing expedition into a now-retired PSC commissioner’s private life would have devastating effects on Wisconsin’s regulatory and business climate. Our brief further argued that baseless accusations of bias, like the ones being aired in this case, erode the public’s trust in government institutions.