Tag Archives: joanne kloppenburg

Justice Prosser’s long career overshadowed by one heated moment

David Prosser filled a lot of roles: prosecutor, legislator, state Supreme Court justice. But he’s likely to be best remembered for getting into a physical altercation with another justice that brought national ridicule to Wisconsin’s highest court.

Prosser, 73, faded into retirement Sunday, two days after Gov. Scott Walker appointed attorney Dan Kelly to replace him. Prosser, typically quiet and reserved in public, didn’t respond to requests from The Associated Press for an interview about his career.

He leaves a legacy of public service marred by the moment he put his hands around Justice Ann Walsh Bradley’s throat during an argument. He told investigators he was defending himself, but the incident bared a long feud between the court’s conservative and liberal justices and brought embarrassment to the court that still remains.

“As I traveled around the country people would ask me about him and the incident,” said Janine Geske, a Marquette University law professor and former state Supreme Court justice whom Prosser replaced on the high court in 1998. “It really was a tragic and horrible incident for the court. He bears responsibility for what happened.”

Prosser graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison law school in 1968. He worked as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice and as a lecturer at the Indiana University-Indianapolis law school during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

He was elected to the state Assembly as a Republican in 1978 after a stint as Outagamie County district attorney. He served nine terms in the body, rising to speaker. A baseball fan, he helped lead the push to provide funding for Miller Park, the Milwaukee Brewers’ stadium. The lifelong bachelor opposed removing criminal penalties for consenting adults who have non-marital sex.

Sen. Tim Carpenter, a Milwaukee Democrat and out gay man who served in the Assembly with Prosser, described him as willing to listen to anyone.

“It was a different era back then,” Carpenter said.

Spencer Black, a former Democratic representative who also served with Prosser, said Prosser grew more partisan as he gained power, becoming more acerbic in his remarks and less accommodating.

“He changed quite a bit,” Black said.

Then-Gov. Tommy Thompson appointed Prosser to the high court in 1998 after Geske resigned. He ran unopposed for a full 10-year term in 2001.

The justices are officially nonpartisan, but Prosser was in the bloc of conservative justices that controls the court. In fact, during his 2011 campaign for retention, he publicly vowed to support Walker’s agenda from the bench.

The court’s conservatives delivered a huge win for Walker last year when they halted Milwaukee prosecutors’ investigation into whether his campaign illegally coordinated with outside groups, declaring nothing improper took place. Those same outside groups had given many millions of dollars to the conservative justices who ruled in their favor, casting a giant shadow of doubt over the blindness of justice in Wisconsin.

Over the years a feud developed between the conservatives and liberal justices Shirley Abrahamson and Bradley.

Emails show that in February 2010 Prosser called Abrahamson a “bitch” and threatened to destroy her as the justices were debating a request to remove conservative Justice Michael Gableman from a case. Prosser said the liberals goaded him into making the offensive remarks, presumably by disagreeing with him.

Prosser faced a bitter re-election in the spring of 2011 against challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg, whose supporters worked to transform the race into a referendum on Walker, who had just signed his signature law restricting public workers’ union rights after weeks of protests. Prosser ultimately defeated Kloppenburg following a statewide recount.

That same year he placed his hands around Bradley’s throat during an argument in chambers over the timing of the release of a divided opinion upholding Walker’s union restrictions. Prosser later said he inadvertently touched her neck in self-defense after she charged him, but said he didn’t squeeze. Bradley confirmed Prosser didn’t choke her and no one was charged. Prosser’s fellow conservatives recused themselves from deciding whether Prosser was guilty of ethics violations, leaving the court short of a quorum to decide the issue.

The incident became fodder for late-night comics — UW-Madison law professor Howard Scheweber declared the court a laughingstock — and to this day chalk writings still mysteriously appear on Capitol square sidewalks advertising free chokes from Prosser.

Carpenter said the incident reflects how the fight over Walker’s public union restrictions changed everyone in the Capitol.

“(The law) just polarized everybody,” Carpenter said. “There wasn’t anybody in the building who wasn’t forced into different camps. I hold that against all of us.”


Bradley outspent Kloppenburg 4–1 in Supreme Court race

In the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, outside groups supporting Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley outspent those supporting Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg almost 4 to 1.

All told, outside groups for Bradley spent about $2,714,000 while those for Kloppenburg spent about $710,000. That’s a ratio of 3.8 to 1.

Kloppenburg lost her bid on Tuesday for a 10-year seat on the high court to Bradley.

Topping the list of outside spenders was the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, a conservative Madison-based group formed late last year that doled out an estimated $2.6 million on four television ads and a radio ad to support Bradley. Two of the broadcast ads — audio here and video on YouTube — praised Bradley and the other ads — here, here,* and here* — attacked Kloppenburg for decisions in three cases before the appeals court she sits on.

The Alliance is an issue ad group, which means that it can secretly raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to spend on its outside electioneering activities.

Behind the Alliance was the Greater Wisconsin Committee, which spent an estimated $710,000 on issue ads and independent expenditures to support Kloppenburg. Greater Wisconsin, which was formed in 2004 to mostly support Democratic candidates for statewide office and the legislature, doled out an estimated $600,000 through its issue ad arm to air a television ad — here —that attacked Bradley for controversial opinion columns she did as a college student. In addition, Greater Wisconsin’s corporation said in paperwork filed with the state that it would spend about $107,300 on online advertising against Bradley.

The Republican State Leadership Committee, which was created in 2002 to support GOP candidates for the legislative offices throughout the country, registered a committee with the state that spent about $114,000 on a 60-second radio ad — here — and mailings to support Bradley. The RSLC’s Judicial Fairness Initiative was formed last fall to support conservative judicial candidates around the country.

Finally, WEAC Region 3 PAC, a political action committee affiliated with the Wisconsin Education Association Council which is the state’s largest teachers union, spent about $2,400 on mailings to support Kloppenburg.

*When clicking on this link you may prompted to open a file in your default media player. If so, click “OK.” Once the complete video has been downloaded it will automatically play.


Anti-Bradley protest scheduled tonight at Marquette debate

Protesters plan to stage an anti-Bradley demonstration tonight outside Marquette Law School, 1215 W. Michigan St., where Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate JoAnne Kloppenburg will debate interim Justice Rebecca Bradley.

Saul Newton, whose affiliated with the issue advocacy group We Are Wisconsin, said Bradley’s hateful anti-gay writings and close ties to corporate PACs and the Republican Party make her unsuitable to serve on the state’s highest court. His group is calling on Bradley, who was appointed last fall by Scott Walker to serve as an interim justice following the death of Justice Patrick Crooks, to resign her position and drop out of the race.

“There is no room for hate on our courts,” Newton said. “She has a decades-long record of not showing the kind of judgment we expect out of the state’s highest court.”

Newton said his group, which brings together progressive constituencies at the local level to mutually empower each other, seldom becomes involved in specific races. But after following Bradley’s campaign “very closely,” he said, the group concluded “she can’t be trusted to hold everyone equally under the eyes of the law.”

We Are Wisconsin held its first demonstration against Bradley last night outside Madison’s Monona Terrace, where a Republican fundraiser was being held for Bradley. Only a small handful of people turned out for the protest, which wasn’t announced until yesterday afternoon, Newton said.

He expects a larger presence at tonight’s debate, which begins at 7 p.m.

The group plans to hold a third demonstration on Friday, March 18, at a debate hosted by Wisconsin Public Television.

“Our message is definitely getting out there that Bradley can’t be trusted,” Newton said. “We’re hearing a lot from local leaders and advocates.”

Bradley ducked out of Supreme Court arguments to make speech for right-wing group

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley ducked out of oral arguments early last week so she could give a speech to the state’s largest business group, which has spent heavily on judicial candidates who will support their business interests on the bench. Her behavior drew strong criticism Friday from her opponent in next month’s election.

Appointed to the state’s highest court last October by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, Bradley is backed by right-wing corporate PACs in her race for a full 10-year term. She faces state Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, who is backed by progressives in the April 5 election.

Although the contest is officially labeled “nonpartisan,” in recent years court races have become as political as other elected offices in Wisconsin.

Bradley gave the speech on Feb. 24 at the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce’s “business day” event in Madison. The event was held at a convention center about three blocks from the Capitol, where the high court was hearing arguments that afternoon. Her speech was scheduled to begin at roughly the same time as arguments were concluding in a case about a woman whose child-care certification had been revoked.

Bradley’s campaign confirmed on Friday that left arguments early to attend the event.

“Supreme Court justices routinely excuse themselves from portions of oral arguments for personal or scheduling reasons,” campaign spokeswoman Madison Wiberg said in a statement. “Justice Bradley had reviewed all briefs in detail before the oral arguments, while on the bench she had heard answers to the queries posed by her colleagues and had no further inquiries on the merits of the case when she excused herself to attend a previously scheduled speaking engagement.”

Bradley’s political opponents blasted the move, noting that she told business leaders at that event “I am your public servant.”

Kloppenburg’s spokeswoman, Melissa Mulliken, said the early departure was “appalling.”

“There is nothing routine about a justice on the Supreme Court leaving oral arguments to curry favor with Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce,” Mulliken said. “It is absolutely clear that Rebecca Bradley’s allegiance is to the big money special interests and partisan politics that she has used to fuel her fast track rise. It is appalling she would so blatantly disregard her duty and the people of Wisconsin.”

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce has yet to spend money in this year’s court race. But in four races between 2007 and 2013, it spent an estimated $5.6 million to help elect conservative justices, according to a tally by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a group that tracks campaign spending. All four of the justices that WMC backed won their races and now comprise the conservative majority of the court.

Bradley’s opponents have tried to paint her as beholden to corporate and right-wing interests, pointing to her being appointed three times by Walker, her appearances at WMC events and the fact that prominent Republicans are raising money to help her campaign.

“Instead of doing her job, Rebecca Bradley left a hearing to run off and pledge ‘I am your public servant’ to the state’s big business lobby she hopes will spend big in her race like they did to elect four other conservative justices,” said Scot Ross, leader of the liberal activist group One Wisconsin Now.


Supreme Court election, contentious county race drive turnout in Milwaukee

Voter turnout for the Feb. 16 primary elections in Milwaukee was nearly double that of the last municipal primary in 2012. Hotly contested races for the state Supreme Court, Milwaukee County Executive, Milwaukee mayor and seven Milwaukee aldermanic districts helped spur participation.

Neil Albrecht, executive director of the city of Milwaukee Election Commission, said turnout this year was 21 percent, compared to 12 percent in 2012.

The turnout “really isn’t attributable to anything other than who’s on the ballot and how contentious the races are,” Albrecht said, noting the 2012 municipal primary had much lower-profile contests.


At the top of the ballot was a three-way race for the state’s Supreme Court. The two highest vote getters will face off in a general election on April 5.

Winning one of the places on that ballot was Rebecca Bradley, a controversial Supreme Court justice who was appointed by Scott Walker months ago. She received 45 percent of the statewide vote.

Close behind, JoAnne Kloppenburg won the other spot on the April ballot. She took second place with 43 percent of the vote. In 2011, she came close to unseating right-wing Justice David Prosser.

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joe Donald came in third. Conventional wisdom is that Donald’s voters will give their support to Kloppenburg in April, which suggests a tough race ahead for Bradley.

Adding to her difficulty, Bradley is closely tied to Walker, whose approval rating stands at just 38 percent. On the other hand, she has strong Republican support and can expect massive contributions from Koch-backed groups as well as Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, another right-wing group.


Another big draw on the Feb. 16 ballot was a spirited race for Milwaukee County Executive between incumbent Chris Abele and challenger Chris Larson, a state senator. Larson eked out a slim but impressive 700-vote victory in the primary, which also included long-shot candidates Joseph T. Klein, a member of the Wisconsin Pirate Party, and carpenter Steve Hogan.

Abele and Larson are both political progressives. Nonetheless, Larson ran a negative campaign that attacked Abele as a power-hungry oligarch indifferent to the middle class and the poor. Larson’s supportive PAC tried to tie Abele to Scott Walker, depicting the two political opposites as flip sides of the same coin in one campaign mailer.

Abele ran a positive campaign touting his success in increasing county services while restoring fiscal balance to the county after inheriting a massive structural debt from his predecessor, Walker.


The first-time implementation of the state’s new voter ID law went relatively smoothly in this primary, but the law has yet to face its most challenging test.

Conservatives were quick to seize on higher turnout in Milwaukee and throughout much of the state yesterday as proof the new voter ID law failed to stifle participation, as liberal groups had predicted. But Albrecht said the real test of the law’s impact will come with the elections in April and especially in November, when there will be presidential, senatorial and other high-profile races on the ballot.

Although voting went smoothly for the most part, Albrecht said “there was a fair amount of confusion and frustration for voters.”

In addition to dealing with their first election using the voter ID law, poll workers had to implement other changes that state GOP leaders have made to the electoral process. Since taking office in 2011, Walker has enacted 33 laws that impact the electoral process in Wisconsin, according to the Wisconsin Legislative Council.

“I don’t think lawmakers or the pubic necessarily recognize that election workers only perform their duties four times a year at the most and (the laws) have become so complex that it really is a struggle for the workers and for the voters,” Albrecht said.

He added that voters in February primaries are usually the most dedicated and experienced voters, so they tend to be more knowledgeable and aware of voter requirements.

“The February primary (draws) the frequent voters, the people who come out and vote in probably every election,” Albrecht explained. “The real test of how the ID law affects voters will be this April and November. You can’t gauge the effect of photo ID by a primary.” 

Supreme Court candidates differ in ideology and experience

The Wisconsin Supreme Court primary election arrives Tuesday with the same overt partisanship that has characterized the court itself in recent years, but a look past the campaign ads finds more differences in the candidates than just ideology.

Rebecca Bradley started her career defending doctors in malpractice lawsuits and focused on business law before ascending to the lower-court bench. JoAnne Kloppenburg is a former Peace Corps volunteer who spent more than two decades in the attorney general’s office. Joe Donald helped create a drug treatment court in Milwaukee.

All three say their impartiality makes them uniquely suited to the job, but only two will advance to the spring election in April.

“The challenge for voters,” Kloppenburg said, “is to see who is most likely to deliver on that promise.”

Kloppenburg, who did rural development work in Botswana and established a women’s nutrition program in upstate New York when she returned to the U.S. in the early ‘80s, said her more than 20 years’ experience as a prosecutor in the Wisconsin Justice Department, her background as the only candidate who was first voted in to office, rather than appointed, and her judicial record suggest she won’t be beholden to political agendas or special interest groups. “Voters support me because they can’t tell how I’m going to decide a case in advance,” the appeals court judge said.

But Donald has cast Kloppenburg as the choice of liberals — even as he himself has been endorsed by Democrats such as Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore.

The longtime Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge began to raise his profile when he helped establish a special court program in 2009 that looked to deal with the underlying causes of drug crimes, including poverty, addiction and untreated mental health problems. “We had to figure out a way to maintain safety, but also help people,” he said. He said people who have been through the program are less likely to reoffend and that the drug court has reduced “the cost associated with locking so many people up.”

He was appointed by Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson in 1996 and says it’s proof of his independence. He also says he hasn’t received support from special interest groups. “I’m trying to get politics and money out of our court,” he said.

Kloppenburg has criticized Donald for supporting Bradley in the past. Both challengers, however, have gone after Bradley, the incumbent by way of a recent appointment, as the conservatives’ pick who would further tip the court’s balance in that direction. They point out that she has been appointed to three judgeships in three years by Gov. Scott Walker and that she has received support from the conservative Wisconsin Alliance for Reform.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks political spending, the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform is the only outside group to purchase television ads in the race _ about $435,000 in air time as of Friday. The Bradley campaign hasn’t booked TV time. Donald’s campaign has spent about $143,000 on TV spots, compared to Kloppenburg’s $133,000.

The candidates were fairly even in their own fundraising.

Donald and Kloppenburg have tried to turn Bradley’s outside support against her, saying money from groups that don’t have to disclose their donors doesn’t belong in the race. “These expenditures raise concerns among voters that justice is for sale,” Kloppenburg said.

Bradley says such groups are exercising free speech and “it’s not my place to tell them not to do so.”

The former private practice attorney has had a rapid ascent she was appointed to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court late in 2012. She was tapped for an appeals court spot last spring and was selected for the state’s highest court in October. Bradley says her experience as a trial court, appeals court and high court judge are unmatched. That, plus her 16 years “in all manner of civil litigation” in private practice make her uniquely qualified, she said.

Bradley said she’s running on her judicial philosophy, which is to make “the right decision under the law.” She expands on the concept in a statement on her campaign website, which reads: “The role of a justice is to interpret the law, not invent it. The people of Wisconsin are best served by justices who understand and embrace their duty to state what the law is, not what they prefer it to be.”

Bradley declined to comment on recent decisions by the right-leaning court. But Donald and Kloppenburg said rulings on voter ID and on John Doe investigations are examples of politically driven decisions that benefit conservatives.

Right-wing money starts pouring in for Rebecca Bradley’s Supreme Court bid

Outside groups have started pumping money into Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race.

The conservative Wisconsin Alliance for Reform has spent at least $234,660 on a statewide ad buy supporting Justice Rebecca Bradley, according to research released by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice.

Wisconsin Alliance for Reform released a 30-second issue ad this week touting Bradley’s merits. A supporter and donor of Gov. Scott Walker, Bradley is a former president of the Milwaukee chapter of the Federalist Society, a far-right libertarian lawyers group. She’s also belonged to the Thomas Moore Society, a conservative Catholic legal group, and the Republican National Lawyers Association.

She began her legal career protecting corporations from liability lawsuits and doctors from malpractice suits.

Groups don’t need to report spending on such ads to the state. Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice compiled a spending estimate using files television broadcasters have uploaded to the Federal Communications Commission.

The researchers didn’t find any groups spending on behalf of Bradley’s opponents, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joe Donald and 4th District Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg. They also didn’t have an estimate of how much Wisconsin Alliance for Reform may have spent on cable buys; the FCC doesn’t track political ads on cable systems.

Justice at Stake is a national nonpartisan group that focuses on keeping courts impartial. The Brennan Center for Justice is a nonpartisan institute in the New York University School of Law.

Liberal group One Wisconsin Now said its research shows Wisconsin Alliance for Reform has spent closer to $400,000 on ads. One Wisconsin Now Deputy Director Mike Browne said the group queried every Wisconsin television station and cable system. He said the group didn’t search for groups supporting Bradley’s opponents.

Outside groups have spent millions trying to influence the last three Supreme Court races, according to estimates from government watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. They spent $4.5 million ahead of the 2011 election between incumbent Justice David Prosser and Kloppenburg; $1.2 million in the 2013 race between incumbent Justice Pat Roggensack and challenger Ed Fallone; and $169,000 in last year’s race between incumbent Justice Ann Walsh Bradley and challenger James Daley. That race was far quieter and drew far less attention than the two previous contests, however.

Bradley, Donald and Kloppenburg have a Feb. 16 primary, with the top two advancing to the April 5 general election. Wisconsin Supreme Court races are officially nonpartisan, although Bradley has ties to Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who appointed her as a Milwaukee County judge and an appellate judge before tapping the inexperienced justice to replace Justice Patrick Crooks after he died suddenly in his chambers last September.

Justice at Stake spokeswoman Laurie Kinney said outside spending in state Supreme Court races raises questions about justices’ impartiality and whether they feel beholden to groups that support them.

“If you have a justice who arrives on the bench courtesy of millions of dollars of spending by an outside interest group, what is the effect going to be on that person’s professional performance?” Kinney said. “It’s deleterious to the administration of justice.”

Wisconsin Alliance for Reform describes itself on its website as a “coalition of concerned citizens and community leaders committed to creating greater economic opportunities for Wisconsin families.” Asked why the group had chosen to back Bradley, spokesman Chris Martin said by email that she embodies the leadership and courage the group expects from justices.

That raises the question of where Bradley has demonstrated courage and leadership. Walker appointed Bradley, who has only about four years of experience on the bench, to every judicial position that she’s held in her career, which dates back only four years.

Despite her glaring lack of expeience, Bradley was so certain he would appoint her to the high court that she registered a website as a Supreme Court justice before the applications were even due. To most people, that suggests a crony-style inside track on the job rather than anything resembling leadership and courage. 

“The Bradley campaign and the Republican Party are essentially one and the same,” said a statement from Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Joe Donald’s campaign manager, Andy Suchorski, at the time of her appointment.

More outside spending looks to be on the way. Scott Manley, a lobbyist for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group and a staunch Republican ally, told the Wisconsin State Journal last month that the group plans to get involved in the race. The group spent nearly $2 million on ads supporting the conservative-leaning Prosser and Roggensack, according to Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The group spent nothing to help Daley.

Manley didn’t immediately return a telephone message The Associated Press left at his office. In September Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Vice President Jim Pugh called Bradley “the leading conservative for the high court,” suggesting the group’s spending this time will go to support her.

Right-wing money, politics at issue in Wisconsin Supreme Court race

The two rivals trying to unseat Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley, whom Gov. Scott Walker appointed to the court last October, warned of the influence of partisan politics on the state’s highest court at a candidate forum on Jan. 27.

Bradley and challengers JoAnne Kloppenburg and Joe Donald appeared together for the first time at a forum hosted by the Milwaukee Bar Association, three weeks ahead of the Feb. 16 primary that will narrow the field to two before the April 5 general election.

All three are seeking a 10-year term to replace Justice Patrick Crooks, who died in September. By appointing the relatively inexperienced Bradley, Walker ensured that she’d have the huge advantage of incumbency heading into the elections. Judicial incumbents nearly always win re-election, but some political observers say this appointment could backfire, given Walker’s low approval rating. It could turn the race into a referendum against the unpopular governor.

“It is unprecedented for a Wisconsin governor of any party to appoint a declared judicial candidate to the Supreme Court this close to an election,” said Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling at the time of the appointment. “This power grab sets a terrible precedent and doesn’t pass the smell test.”

“The fact that Walker twice named her to judgeships before makes her ‘Walker’s candidate,’ Kloppenburg said in a statement.

“The Bradley campaign and the Republican Party are essentially one and the same,” said a statement from Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Joe Donald’s campaign manager, Andy Suchorski, at the time of her appointment.

Neither Kloppenburg nor Donald applied for the vacancy, saying it’s unethical for an announced candidate to apply for a judicial seat while campaigning for it. Even though each is more qualified, they would never have been considered anyhow, given their lack of right-wing credentials.

Walker has appointed Bradley, who has only about four years of judicial experience, to every judicial position that she’s held.

Bradley was so certain he would appoint her to the high court that she registered a website as a Supreme Court justice before the applications were even due.

On Jan. 27, however, Bradley pledged to run “a positive and nonpartisan” campaign and said she welcomes support from anyone who offers it.

She’s a Walker donor, however, and her past support has come primarily from the Republican Party and the dark money groups that pile huge amounts of cash into the coffers of tea party political candidates.

Walker’s first appointment of Bradley helped her narrowly win her race to retain the circuit court job he gave her. But $167,000 from the Koch brother’s Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce also contributed to that victory. The Koch brothers and their corporate allies oppose all government regulations, all watchdog groups and limits on money in politics, and all government assistance programs, including college aid, Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. Their ultimate goal is to sell off all public land to corporate interests and privatize all government functions except the military.

Bradley is their perfect candidate. A former president of the Milwaukee chapter of the Federalist Society, a far-right libertarian lawyers group, she’s also belonged to the Thomas Moore Society, a conservative Catholic legal group, and the Republican National Lawyers Association. She began her legal career protecting corporations from liability lawsuits and doctors from malpractice suits.

At the Jan. 27 forum, Kloppenburg, a state appellate judge who was elected to that position on her own, said she would accept campaign funds from any groups except political parties. She said her experience makes her best to do “justice without fear or favor” and to “stand up to special interests.”

Donald, a Milwaukee County Circuit judge, touted his independence. He said the election is important to restore integrity at the Supreme Court and that without a new independent, “we’re stuck with an ideologue on the court for the next 30 years,” referring to Bradley, who is only 44 years old.

Bradley registered website as Supreme Court justice before applications were due

Rebecca Bradley, who was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court by Gov. Scott Walker over widespread objections, registered a website domain name identifying her as a justice on the court even before applications were due for the appointment were due, according to The Associated Press and other sources.

Bradley, a Walker campaign donor who’s been supported by the same right-wing corporate groups that support him, was seated on Monday to complete the final nine months of Justice Pat Crooks, who died on Sept. 21. She threw her hat into next year’s Supreme Court race Sept. 17, just days after Crooks announced he was retiring.

Walker originally appointed Bradley to every judicial position she’s held since 2012. Prior to that time she had never served as a judge.

In 2013, she ran as an incumbent for a circuit court bench position to which Walker had appointed her. Armed with $167,000 in campaign contributions from the Koch brother’s Club for Growth and the Republican Party, she won with 53 percent of the vote over an experienced candidate.

Critics said Walker gave Bradley a similar boost by allowing her to run as an incumbent in next year’s election. Bradley also is expected to receive big-bucks backing from right-wing groups for her race next April, since her defeat would result in a 3–3 split on the court between conservatives and progressives.

Still, being so strongly identified as Walker’s candidate could cut against her, given the governor’s low polling numbers. The most recent Marquette Law School poll found 57 percent of Wisconsin voters disapprove of the job he’s doing, while only 37 approve. The rest have no opinion.

Bradley faces Fourth District Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg and Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joe Donald on the ballot — neither of whom applied for the Supreme Court appointment.

Bradley’s appointment was the first ever made to an announced candidate for the high court bench. Both liberal and conservative judicial experts had urged him not to taint the court, which already ranks low in the public’s esteem due to prior scandals, by appointing a candidate for the bench.

Apparently, Walker had struck a backroom deal with Bradley even before he announced it. Bradley campaign spokeswoman Madison Wiberg said the website domain name of “justicerebeccabradley.com” was reserved a day before the Oct. 2 application deadline by a vendor “in anticipation of the application process.”

One Wisconsin Now executive director Scot Ross told the Wisconsin State Journal that the domain name registration “is further proof the fix was in from the start.”

“It calls into question what should have been an open, fair process that would maintain an independent judiciary,” Melissa Mulliken, campaign manager for Kloppenburg, told the newspaper. “Instead, it gives the appearance of the kind of cronyism that has defined Scott Walker’s administration.”

Claude Covelli, a Madison attorney who sought the appointment but lost out to Bradley, said it appears that Walker may have instigated a “sham application process.”

Bradley announced her campaign for the full 10-year term on Sept. 17, four days before Crooks died and the day after he said he would not seek re-election.

Walker draws fire for appointing donor to Supreme Court

As predicted, Gov. Scott Walker has appointed Appeals Court Judge Rebecca Bradley to complete the term of deceased Justice Patrick Crooks on the state Supreme Court. Crooks, who had announced his plan not to seek another term in September, died suddenly on the job on Sept. 21.

The appointment of Bradley, a Walker donor who had never served on the bench until Walker appointed her to a circuit court position three years ago, has outraged critics from both sides of the aisle. They had urged Walker to either leave the position vacant until the next election in April or appoint someone who was not already an announced candidate in the race, as Bradley was.

The circumstances surrounding Bradley’s appointment make it a first. Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg and Circuit Court Judge Joe Donald are also announced candidates, but neither sought Walker’s appointment, as Bradley did.

Walker is unlikely to have appointed either of them due to politics.

Judicial races in Wisconsin are nominally nonpartisan, but the reality is that conservatives and liberals — and well-funded outside groups — coalesce around the candidates they favor and spend millions helping to elect them.

Still, “it is unprecedented for a Wisconsin governor of any party to appoint a declared judicial candidate to the Supreme Court this close to an election,” said Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling. “This power grab sets a terrible precedent and doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Critics say that Walker’s appointment of Bradley gives the relatively inexperienced candidate a big boost over her more-seasoned competition. It also turns the race into a referendum on Walker, according to leaders on both sides of the aisle.

“The fact that Walker twice named her to judgeships before makes her ‘Walker’s candidate,’ Kloppenburg said in a statement.

Walker’s first appointment of Bradley helped her narrowly win her first judicial race to retain the job he gave her. Also helping her victory were $167,000 in contributions from the Koch brother’s Club for Growth and the Republican Party.

Bradley began her legal career protecting corporations from liability lawsuits and doctors from malpractice suits. She moved on to commercial, technology and intellectual property law before Walker lifted her from obscurity by seating her on a circuit court bench in 2012.

Although Crooks was considered a swing vote on the court, he ruled with the Republican majority 80 percent of the time. Bradley has signaled that she might be more flexible than the standard-issue Walker acolyte on somce issues, including LGBT rights and child welfare.

But her backing comes from such right-wing groups as Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which reportedly urged another conservative candidate not to run against her. Brady served as president of the Milwaukee chapter of the Federaliost Sociaty, a far-right lawyers group, and belonged to the Thomas Moore Society, a conservative Catholic legal group. She’s also belonged to the Republican National Lawyers Association.

During what critics called Walker’s “coronation” of Bradley, he claimed she had the best resume for the job, even though she’s only been a judge for three years and was appointed to every position she’s held by Walker. Perhaps one of her attractions is Bradley’s relative youth. At 44, she could go on to serve several 10-year terms, helping to keep a solid right-wing majority on the state’s high court for an entire generation.

Reactions to Bradley’s appointment were swift and angry.

“(Walker) is giving a campaign contributor an unfair advantage in the race next year so Wisconsin residents will have no chance at having an open and fair election for the Supreme Court Justice seat,” charged Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Martha Laning in a prepared statement. Rebecca Bradley has given … to Gov. Walker and today it is paying off for her with her appointment to the Supreme Court.”

But Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, warned that Bradley’s appointment could backfire: “The governor making this appointment so close to the election does not serve the public well but is in line with Republicans’ continued right-wing special interest stranglehold on our state. However, I question why a judicial candidate would want to be so closely linked to a governor with a 37 percent approval rating.”

Kloppenburg came close to unseating controversial Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser in 2011, losing by 7,000 votes out of the 5 million cast. That race came at a time when left-wing bitterness against Walker over Act 10 was at its height. Prosser vowed on the campaign trail to support the governor’s policies from the bench — a jarring message to deliver in a campaign that’s supposed to be non-partisan.

Kloppenburg, however, took the high road, running a relatively low-key campaign in which she refused to talk about partisan issues. She says she’ll be more aggressive in this race.

Donald is positioning himself as the only non-partisan candidate in the race. 

Garren Randolph, a spokesperson for the Joe Donald for Justice campaign, issued a press release saying that unlike Bradley or Kloppenburg, Donald “has served for 19 years as an independent judge, and is earning support across the ideological spectrum because he is the only candidate in the race who represents a truly independent judiciary.”

Donald was appointed by Republican Governor Tommy Thompson.

“Neither Scott Walker nor his political opponents can expect Judge Donald to toe the party line — any party,” Randolph said in his statement.