Gavel Grab

TV Ads Unveiled in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Supreme Court race is heating up. In the last week, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and challenger Judge Randy Koschnick have released campaign ads in order to boost interest and support for their respective campaigns.

Abrahamson’s ad falls in line with the more traditional approach for State Supreme Court TV ads, discussing her record and who endorsed her. Koschnick’s ad does the same, but he throws a subtle shot at Abrahamson by stating, “Judge Koschnick believes in applying the law, not legislating from the bench,” an allusion to Koschnick’s claims that Abrahamson is a judicial activist.

The debate over judicial activism has been one of the key themes of this campaign, with both Chief Justice Abrahamson and Judge Koschnick addressing it in two separate interviews, on the show “Upfront with Mike Gousha” on WKOW-ABC in Madison, WI. The two candidates discuss their values, their judicial philosophy, and their opponent. (Click the images to view  the interviews)

Abrahamson and Koschnick also addressed the issue of Abrahamson taking $30,000 in contributions from lawyers who appeared in front of the Supreme Court in a medical malpractice case on March 5, with Koschnick criticizing Abrahamson for not recusing herself, and citing a Justice at Stake poll. But Koschnick also has been accused of similar entanglements, on a smaller scale. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel shows that in 1999 Koschnick, then a lawyer running for the Circuit Court, took small contributions, no more than $300, from several lawyers later appeared in Koschnick’s court. The contributions were a significant portion of Koschnick’s campaign, according to One Wisconsin Now, a Wisconsin progressive advocacy group:

According to One Wisconsin Now, a Democratic-leaning group, lawyers who later had cases – some of which are still pending – before Koschnick donated a total of $1,345 to his 1999 campaign. That was about 13% of all donations from non-family members to Koschnick’s 1999 campaign for judge, said Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now.

However, Koschnick believes that there is a difference between his conduct and Judge Abrahamson’s:

“I was not a judge when they made those donations… I was a lawyer running for Circuit Court… The bright-line rule is: pending cases at the Read more

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Reform Questionnaire in Wisconsin

A questionnaire pressing legislative candidates to declare their positions on campaign finance reform and other ethics issues has been announced by three Wisconsin civic organizations, including two Justice at Stake Partners.

The questionnaire is especially relevant in Wisconsin, where a measure to institute public financing for statewide judicial races was approved this year in the state Senate, but failed in the House. Wisconsin also was the scene of an especially ugly, free-spending election campaign for Supreme Court justice that ended in April.

To learn more about the questionnaire, see a press release from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin chapter of Common Cause.

 To learn more about Wisconsin’s recent Supreme Court elections, see this April 17 Gavel Grab entry, which includes a fact sheet on Wisconsin.

UPDATE: See further information below, in a comment from Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

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JAS Daily News Monitoring 12/11/07

Justices OK latitude on sentencing – The LA Times
The U.S. Supreme Court hands down two decisions allowing judges more sentencing discretion with crack offenders.

Justices endorse public funding for Supreme Court races – The Capital Times
In anticipation of today’s legislative special session, the Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices send a letter to Governor Doyle endorsing publicly funded Supreme Court elections.

‘Family man’ tries to overturn Wis. gay marriage ban – The Associated Press
Bill McConkey is interviewed by the Associated Press about his motivation for challenging the state constitutional amendment passed last fall banning same-sex marriage.

NY’s chief judge says she may sue over judicial pay raises – The Associated Press
New York Supreme Court Justice Judith Kaye threatens to sue if the legislature does not pass judicial pay raises before the end of the year.

Click here for more news on fair and impartial courts issues from the Brennan Center for Justice E-lerts.

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