Among the thousands of people who signed petitions to trigger a recall election of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are 29 judges from 16 counties in the state.
The total represents 12 percent of the state's approximately 250 county-level judges, according to a Gannett Wisconsin Media analysis. None of the state's 16 appeals court judges or seven Supreme Court justices signed the petitions.
Wisconsin's Code of Judicial Conduct says that judges cannot participate in activities of a political party or candidate and should "avoid the appearance of impropriety."
As Jim Alexander, executive director of the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, told the Associated Press, however, the code does not specifically address recall petitions.
Monroe County Judge J. David Rice said he called Alexander before signing the petition and he had raised no objections.
"He said in his opinion that didn't violate the judicial ethics, so I relied on that in signing," Rice said.
"I concluded that by signing a recall petition I wasn't advocating for a particular party; I was advocating for the recall process, which I thought was completely separate and apart," said Brown County Judge Mark Warpinski, who also signed the document.
Still, others are wondering why a judge would sign a petition, thereby awakening potential criticism and questions of bias.
Professor Richard Painter of the University of Minnesota Law School questioned why judges would expose themselves to criticism and a potential perception of bias by signing the recall petition, though he acknowledged there might be wiggle room within the judicial code allowing judges to sign.
"For judges to be getting involved in the question of whether the governor ought to be recalled I think is highly inappropriate," said Richard Painter, who served as chief ethics lawyer in President George W. Bush's administration. "Whether it violates an ethics rule or not in Wisconsin, I think it's very inappropriate."
The state elections board has set May 8 as the date for the recall elections of the Republican governor and the lieutenant governor. If there is a primary election, the general election will take place on June 5.