Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi and Marquette University law professor Ed Fallone say they might be in.
But Vince Megna’s definitely in the race to unseat Supreme Court Justice Patience Roggensack.
“I’m serious about it. I opened up the checkbook,” says Megna, a Milwaukee attorney known as the “lemon law king” for his success at suing manufacturers for faulty products.
He says he has nearly 100 volunteers ready to circulate his nomination papers.
For anyone who’s seen Megna’s recent videos, which take potshots at Gov. Scott Walker, serious isn’t really the first word that comes to mind. Take for instance the one where Megna can be seen panhandling outside an adult entertainment store to raise money for Walker’s criminal defense fund so the governor doesn’t end up at the state prison in Waupun.
“He’s a very good-looking man,” Megna says in the video, “and I pray to God that he don’t become no Waupun bitch.”
But anyone who’s come up against him in court takes him seriously. He says he’s taken General Motors to the woodshed some 700 times, never losing a case against the monolithic carmaker.
“General Motors is trained now,” Megna says. “They settle cases when people have problems. They settle them right away.”
He’s still working on Ford and Toyota, the latter of which he says has spent as much as a quarter million to fight a $10,000 claim.
“Toyota loves to fight,” he says.
Megna, 68, won’t say how much he’s worth, but the high court, he says, would be “a significant pay cut.” (Justices make $144,500 a year.)
So you can bet he’s got a bundle he can tap for the primary.
Megna, an avowed Democrat, has been appalled as he’s watched the Walker administration and the Republican-led Legislature gut consumer rights with so-called “tort reform,” which, among many other things, included a cap on plaintiffs’ lawyer fees, a measure that makes it all but impossible to find an attorney for small-dollar cases — like getting that security deposit back from your landlord.
“Walker has destroyed consumer protection,” he says.
And he’s so appalled by Republican measures that seek to suppress minority votes that he completely dispenses with the customary practice among judicial candidates to never say how they’ll vote on any given issue.
“Voter ID, the suppression of the vote, has a tremendous chance (of being upheld) with the make-up of the Supreme Court,” he says. “I could change that.”
But Megna says he’ll work to patch things up in a bitterly divided court, where name-calling and petty rivalries — not to mention that alleged choking incident — have made the court a national laughingstock.
And here’s something you might not know: Megna started out as a rock ’n’ roll guitarist, playing with the likes of Bobby Hart of Boyce and Hart, John Walker of the Walker Brothers (one of whom, ironically, went by the professional name of Scott Walker) and Moby Grape founding member Peter Lewis.
He continued his musical exploits well into his legal career, recording with his own band, Vince and the Attorneys, then in 2000 releasing the satirical alternative rock CD Truth is Irrelevant, produced by Genesis guitarist Daryl Stuermer.
I called up Megna last week to ask him a few questions.
The Capital Times: Why did you decide to run?
Vince Megna: I’ve lived through four Supreme Court races in the last four years, and the first three were all controlled by the Koch brothers and out-of-state money, first to get (former liberal Justice Louis) Butler off the bench, and then to place on the bench two more justices that share the same ideology of the Koch brothers and the like. I’m tired of the Koch brothers and outside money coming into Wisconsin to control Wisconsin law and Wisconsin’s Constitution with the ideology of millionaire and billionaire Republicans. I don’t think David Koch should have a voice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. I think the people of Wisconsin should have a voice.
CT: As an attorney who has racked up well over 1,000 wins against GM, Ford, Toyota and just about every other car manufacturer, I assume you’ve amassed a considerable nest egg yourself. What makes you the voice of the people?
VM: For 23 years I’ve represented thousands of people. I’ve talked to people, just people, every single day. I mean, virtually every single day during that period, take out a few weekends, I’ve talked to somebody about the lemon law, or car problems, or a bad TV, or a vacuum cleaner that was defective, or some home repair job where they got stuck, or buying a house with a leaky basement. I’ve talked to people from the gamut, I mean brain surgeons to the poorest guy on the street. And I know their perspective on life. And I’ve adopted that, and that’s how I’d come onto the court.
CT: These races have become expensive. What’s the funding look like?
VM: I have made my first contribution to my campaign. I don’t know if General Motors would contribute any money to my campaign, or their workers, because it would get me out of the business of practicing lemon law.
CT: What do you think about Justice Roggensack?
VM: I really don’t think much about her one way or another because I don’t really view her as my opponent. I view David Koch as my opponent.
CT: People who run for the court typically come from the judiciary, and when they don’t they’re usually attacked as unqualified. Are you qualified for the job?
VM: What is the job? The job at the Supreme Court is not to attack each other, to go at justices’ throats, not to call the chief justice a “bitch,” not to be uncivil, not to have hatred among the justices. This is not the job that a Supreme Court is supposed to do, but that’s what our Supreme Court does.
CT: But you’ve never been a judge. Do you have the experience to take a seat on the state’s highest court?
VM: I’ve argued at the Supreme Court. I’ve seen the Supreme Court from the other side. I know how the Supreme Court works. I know how the appellate courts work. I know how the law works. I’ve lived it for 23 years, at every level. And the perspective I bring is not just practicing law or reading law in a vacuum because these cases, most of them, involve at least one person who may have waited five years to get their case to the Supreme Court. And I know how important that case is.
CT: Even if you managed to unseat Roggensack, the court would still have some bristly personalities. What do you do about that?
VM: We try to kick back and relax. Let’s try to act like justices. Let’s try to read the cases, read the briefs. Let’s talk civilly about the issues in the case, the actual issues and how they relate to the facts in the case. We’re seven people trying to come to a decision, and hopefully a unanimous decision. Maybe the justices need to go to Colorado, now that marijuana’s legal, and kick back for a weekend, take some hits.
CT: The proposition that the Supreme Court races are non-partisan is widely seen as electoral fiction. The liberal-conservative divide might just as well be labeled Democrat-Republican. Do you think we should just drop the pretense?
VM: We all know this. The R and the D is in back of every justice’s name, except they whited it out. But it’s there. I’m a Democrat, there’s no doubt about that. But if I could put the letter behind my name on the court I’d just put a P there, for people.
CT: Do you think the videos you made will make it difficult for you to get voters to take you seriously?
VM: I know that people on the left take me seriously. I’ve got a lot of fans and a lot of supporters. The first video was made because Scott Walker destroyed consumer law in the state of Wisconsin. He virtually destroyed 200 laws on Dec. 8 of 2011. When a politician becomes reckless and destroys these types of laws, people can protest and they can march and they can riot. They can burn the flag, but I make videos. I stand by every video. They’re satirical and they are humorous. But I stand by every video as making a specific point. I think they took (comedian and Minnesota Sen.) Al Franken seriously.
CT: You’re talking about the law (Walker signed Dec. 8, 2011) that caps attorney fees at three times the amount of damages, which was prompted by your case where a car dealer refused to settle, racked up a huge amount of fees, then lost. Did that hurt your practice?
VM: It doesn’t hurt the lemon law that much because the lemon law involves cars (often valued) between $25,000 and $100,000. So with a three-times cap you’re still going to be able to handle those cases. And we have a lot of big cases, and we have a lot of small cases. It really hurt the small cases. It hurt tremendously the $3,000 to $4,000 cases and a huge percentage — I’ve read about 95 percent of consumer claims — are usually under $5,000. Those cases are the cases that really are hurt. Walker’s destruction of consumer law has stopped attorneys from handling these cases because they’ll go out of business.
CT: Do you think you have statewide support?
VM: It’s a grass-roots effort. I’ve represented people from Superior to Kenosha. I’ve got all their contact information. They’re all backing me 100 percent. I’ve got many people in Minocqua. It’s kind of a Republican city, but I’ve represented 15 different individuals up there and they are all backing me and getting all their friends out to vote.
CT: If Judge Sumi enters the race, do you think she’ll give you a run for your money?
VM: Sure, because she overturned Act 10. And she has huge support. We’ll just have to see how that plays out.
CT: Any thought of retiring if you don’t win?
VM: Retire from what? This is what I do. I’m not going to go fishing. I really don’t care about Florida except maybe in January and February. I’m not going to go down to George Webb every morning and have coffee.
It’s something you do because you love it. In this, I could make a difference. I make a difference now by helping people. But I could make a bigger difference.