Michael Screnock has fallen in with the wrong crowd.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate is touting endorsements from scandal-plagued politicians who have:
• Called the former chief justice of the Supreme Court a “bitch” and physically attacked a sitting Supreme Court justice in a series of incidents that led the Wisconsin Judicial Commission to recommend that the state’s court find him guilty of ethics violations.
• Paid part of a record fine for mounting an illegal statewide campaign.
• Been charged by the Wisconsin Judicial Commission with mounting a statewide campaign that deliberately lied to voters and violated ethical standards.
Screnock, a Sauk County Circuit Court judge, is actually highlighting the endorsements he has received from these politicians — former Supreme Court Justices David Prosser and Jon Wilcox, as well as current Justice Michael Gableman — as he mounts a campaign for the court in next February’s nonpartisan primary for an open seat on the high court. Others seeking the open position are Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet and Madison attorney Tim Burns.
Facing the reality that he could not be re-elected, Gableman announced that he would not seek a new term. He indicated at the time of his announcement that he would finish his term. But there is now talk that he might take a Trump administration appointment — a move that would allow Gov. Scott Walker to appoint a political ally, like Screnock, to the bench before the election.
Screnock, who was appointed to his current position by Walker, is seeking a place on the state’s highest court at a time when its reputation has been ruined by the actions of hyperpartisan judicial activists like Prosser and Gableman, as well as the illegal and unethical campaigning of Wilcox, Gableman and others.
By associating his campaign with current and former jurists who have shamed themselves and the court, Screnock signals that, at the very least, he has no understanding of the crisis the court is facing. At worst, Screnock’s embrace of Gableman, Prosser and Wilcox suggests that his presence on the court could make a bad situation worse. He might, for instance, dismiss concerns about corruption of the judiciary — as did Gableman and Prosser when they refused to recuse themselves from consideration of cases involving groups that helped them to secure their positions on the bench.
Perhaps Screnock is naive and unprepared.
Perhaps Screnock is as ethically challenged as Gableman, Prosser and Wilcox.
It falls to Screnock to sort things out.
He is a new candidate, and he has introduced himself to the voters by linking his candidacy with the three political figures whose wrongdoing has most damaged the reputation of the high court. If he chooses to distance himself from the politicians who have so damaged the court’s reputation, that could give him a second chance in the eyes of voters who want to address the mess that has been made of the court.
If, on the other hand, he continues to associate himself with the most disreputable current and former members of the state Supreme Court, then Screnock disqualifies himself from serious consideration for a position on the bench.
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