By Mrinal Gokhale
On the afternoon of Wed. Jan 27, the Milwaukee Bar Association was filled with attorneys, news media and the three Wisconsin Supreme Court judge candidates sitting at the front of the room.
This hour long forum allowed candidates Judge Joe Donald, incumbent Judge Rebecca Bradley and Judge Rebecca Kloppenburg to tout themselves and answer questions regarding their values and aspirations they have if elected.
Judge John DiMotto and his clerk Steven Walters of WisconsinEye mediated the forum, reading questions from the audience directed at the three.
Before the question and answer session started, each candidate gave a brief overview of their experience and what they hope to accomplish.
Wisconsin Supreme Court incumbent Rebecca Bradley was appointed by Governor Walker in 2015 after the death of Judge N. Patrick Crooks.
She was also appointed by Walker in 2012 to the Milwaukee County Circuit children’s division, and is associated with Federalist Society.
She takes pride in leaving her emotions out when making legal decisions.
“I apply the law as it’s written. Some see the law for what they want it to be and not what it is,” she explained.
Judge Donald of the Milwaukee County Court Circuit introduced himself as the first in his family to have a college degree and graduate from law school. “I have tried over 10,000 cases.
I believe in having a fair, impartial court with independence and integrity is the biggest issue.
Politics impact how we elect Supreme Court justices and without an independent candidate, we have a divided court,” he said.
Judge Kloppenburg has been on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, District IV since 2012. She was previously the assistant attorney general for the Wisconsin Department of Justice for 23 years, and has visited all counties that are running for the seat.
“I think partisan politics are the biggest concern and we must hire a judge who is independent,” she said.
Collegiality was the first issue addressed in the forum, as the candidates were each asked how they feel about lack of collegiality in the court and how they plan to restore it.
Justice Bradley had the most to say about collegiality as the only one of the three candidates to be appointed.
“My colleagues welcomed me warmly when I began serving the state Supreme Court,” she recalled, adding that she feels it is a very important part in her role.
Some of the other topics of discussion included writing recusal, expungement, accepting PAC money and how to apply the law as written.
When it comes to handling criminal cases, both Judge Donald and Kloppenburg said they have a lot of experience.
“I apply the law as written,” is what Bradley maintained on this question among many other she was asked.
Judge Donald said he has handled 400 cases involving a jury, spending over 20 years making legal decisions in these types of cases.
Judge Kloppenburg said she has offered hundreds of opinions in law and was involved in the longest running Supreme Court trial.
In closing, Donald, Kloppenburg and Bradley had two minutes to tell the audience why they’re the ideal candidate.
Kloppenburg said that the “stakes are high and the choice is clear.”
“People of Wisconsin have a chance to choose a justice for Supreme Court who they know will be independent and can stand up to the partisan politics and special interests that have threatened to undermine the respect for an authority of our court.”
Bradley maintained that whether she’s dealing with statutory, constitutional or common law, she’s always guided by text of the law.
She gave terminating parental “rights” as an example, saying, “I didn’t let my feelings affect that judicial decision making.”
Lastly, Donald used his judicial experience and his life experience to make his point. He started off by quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“The moral arc of the universe bends towards justice and towards those who believe in a strong, fair and impartial court.
I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and know how it feels to be treated differently,” he said.
“It’s vitally important that a court maintains independence.”
Donald also mentioned that he feels he has more experience as a judge than both Bradley and Kloppenburg.
After closing remarks, Walters said that the primary is set for February 16 with the election date of April 5.
The forum can be viewed at www.wiseye.org.