Walker judicial appointee campaigns in Milwaukee on ties to governor

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Nelson Phillips, who was appointed to the bench by Gov. Scott Walker last October, sent out a campaign e-mail saying, “We need to win this election, both for the bench and for the governor.”

Although Phillips insisted at a recent candidate forum that he’s independent and “not a political plant,” in the same e-mail Phillips made a plea for money to advertise on right-wing talk radio.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also reported yesterday that North Shore Republicans are promoting a Monday fundraiser for Phillips with an e-mail that says, “We need to make sure we retain this seat.”

Although judicial races are supposed to be non-partisan, political tension in the state since Walker’s 2010 election has strained the bounds of acceptability. Wisconsin Supreme Court Judge David Prosser narrowly won a high-profile retention campaign last year after promising to rubber-stamp Walker’s legislative agenda, which he has proceeded to do.

Carolina Stark, Phillips’ opponent in the race, has tried to steer clear of such inappropriate politicking, although she’s clearly the more progressive candidate in the race. In a Feburary interview with WiG, Stark described herself as a supporter of full LGBT equality and social justice for all Americans.

But in order to avoid the perception that she’ll hear cases from a partisan point of view, Stark has avoided making statements that align her with a specific political agenda. To do so would destroy the confidence of litigants that they would receive impartial justice in her courtroom, she told WiG.

“First and foremost, circuit court judges have to make their decision based on the law,” Stark said.

But Phillips’ opponents argue that he, like Prosser, has compromised the perception of independence.

While detractors have accused Stark of partisanship because the unions as well as Democratic leaders back her, she has not said anything to imply that their support would be treated as a quid pro quo if she wins the race.

Critics say that’s exactly what Phillips, like Prosser, has done.