By Gretchen Schuldt
(We'll be coming back to this forum in later posts.)
State Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly on Thursday accused challenger Jill Karofsky of "disgusting slander" before insisting that Karofsky apologize to Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, who hadn't been mentioned by anyone until Kelly brought her up.
Marquette University Law Professor Ed Fallone, the third candidate vying for a 10-year term on the court, remained removed from the back-and-forth.
"There may be people around the state of Wisconsin who are happy to see our Supreme Court elections descend to this level," Fallone said. "If there are, I've never met them."
The Karofsky-Kelly battle occurred during a Supreme Court candidate forum sponsored by the Milwaukee Bar Association and WJI. Karofsky went after Kelly hard, saying he catered to right wing special interests.
Near the end of the forum she said, "I just want to respond to Justice Kelly, saying I don't have any examples of him always finding (for) the right-wing special interest, and that's not true. The Koschkee case is a prime example. The lame-duck case is an example where the Supreme Court couldn't even wait to get their hands on that case to make a ruling."
In Koschkee, a 2019 decision, the Supreme Court ruled the governor had the right to reject rules proposed by the State Department of Public Instruction. The ruling reversed the court's 2016 decision on the same issue.
The "lame duck" reference is to the Supreme Court's 2019 decision to uphold laws passed by the Republican-dominated Legislature to strip newly elected Democratic leaders, including Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, of powers their predecessors enjoyed.
"They plucked it from the circuit court before the circuit court could even hold a hearing on it," said Karofsky, a Dane County circuit judge, "and they did it in the budget veto case again, and no one is going to be surprised by how Justice Kelly rules on those cases. They pulled them from the circuit court so that they could make the decision that they want to make as soon as they possibly could."
Kelly responded sharply, and then pulled Roggensack into it.
"I think we really do have to take Judge Karofsky to task for this disgusting slander, not just on me, but on my colleagues as well," he said.
"This is about your personal advancement and you don't care who you are going to lie about," Kelly said. "But that's really not even the worst of it."
Since he and Roggensack often agree, he said, Karofsky must be referring with her criticism to the chief justice as well.
"And that is an outrageous slander on someone who has been a paragon of integrity for the entirety of her career and the practice of law and her service on the bench," he said.
"Now you owe me an apology for this disgusting slander," he said. "I don't think I'll get one. Because if you didn't have slander, you wouldn't have a campaign. But you do owe Chief Justice Roggensack an apology. She's not here. She's not been part of this campaign. And she did not ask to be slandered by some careless trial judge who can't even be bothered to keep her insults focused on the target. So this is your opportunity. Apologize to Chief Justice Roggensack right now."
"I'm not going to be bullied by you," Karofsky responded.
Karofsky, Kelly said, "does not have the judgment or the character to get anywhere near the Supreme Court."
Forum moderator Steve Walters gave Karofsky a chance to respond.
The comments she made reflect "what the voters, the people in the state of Wisconsin, are seeing," she said. "They are seeing decisions made on the Supreme Court before anyone ever walks into the state Supreme Court chamber. That isn't what justice is."
Justice, she said, "is when a judge looks at the law and the judge allows the facts to percolate in a trial court, where I sit, so that witnesses can answer questions so that there can be a fair hearing, so that there is a process that is followed that everyone can see. That is what justice is. And then after that, the law is applied to the facts of the case and that's how you reach the right answer. That is what people in the state of Wisconsin are asking for and that is what they deserve."
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