Supreme Court election forum focuses on civility among justices

2013-02-07T17:15:00Z Supreme Court election forum focuses on civility among justicesThe Associated Press The Associated Press
February 07, 2013 5:15 pm  • 

MILWAUKEE — A 2011 altercation between two state Supreme Court justices drew renewed attention Thursday as a third justice and her two election challengers sparred over whether the current court is too dysfunctional to be effective.

Justice Pat Roggensack, law professor Ed Fallone and consumer lawyer Vince Megna appeared in Milwaukee together at an hourlong candidate forum sponsored by the Milwaukee Bar Association. The slate of three candidates will be whittled down to two in a Feb. 19 primary. The general election is April 2.

Fallone and Megna said Wisconsin used to have a proud tradition of judicial excellence, but that the incident last year shows just how far conditions have deteriorated.

"We've all seen the incivility, the personal sniping in the opinions, the inability of the justices to get along," Fallone said. "And this dysfunction has had an effect on the quality of their work."

Roggensack, who is seeking her second term, said any characterization of incivility on the court was "gossip at its worst."

"If we were really after each other constantly, screaming and yelling at each other, do you really think I'd be seeking another 10-year term on this court? Come on," she said. "There are a lot of other things I could do."

Fallone was referring to a 2011 incident in which Justice David Prosser placed his hands around the neck of fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley. Prosser said he was making a defensive move, but charges have been brought against him alleging that he violated the judicial ethics code.

Roggensack and two other justices have recused themselves from considering the case, leaving its prospects uncertain.

Fallone criticized Roggensack for recusing herself, saying a disciplinary hearing would have been the best way for all parties to discuss what happened and resolve the issue. Roggensack replied that she was bound by statute to withdraw because she was a material witness.

Megna also took aim at the court for failing to handle the matter. But he said his larger concern was what he called the "four-person conservative bloc" on the bench. Roggensack often sides with Prosser and two other conservative justices on cases, making up a conservative majority on the seven-member court.

"I feel it's inappropriate and I feel it's causing a significant problem in the state," Megna said.

All three candidates played up their campaign themes. Roggensack emphasized her 17 years of experience as a judge, Fallone discussed his legal expertise and Megna talked about being a voice for the people.

Campaign finance reports filed last week showed Roggensack with $55,000 in the bank heading into January compared with about $6,900 for Megna and $5,400 for Fallone. Roggensack's totals didn't include $20,550 from Fund for Parent Choice, a national group that advocates for private-school vouchers.

Roggensack launched the first TV ad of the campaign season this week, a spot highlighting her judicial experience.

During the forum, the moderator, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge John DiMotto, asked the candidates whether they would request that third-party independent groups not run ads in the race.

Roggensack said she wouldn't make such a request because candidates cannot stop groups from airing ads if they want. Fallone didn't answer directly but said he'd like outside groups to be held to higher standards of public disclosure, and Megna said he was disappointed that his two fellow candidates declined to join his pledge to reject outside money.

"If the candidates won't reject that, I'm asking the people of Wisconsin ... to reject that," Megna said.

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(4) Comments

    Report Abuse
    GOOD DOG HAPPY MAN - February 09, 2013 11:56 am

    Neither of State Supreme Court Justice Pat Roggensack's opponents have a lick of judicial experience.

    That's right, neither has been a judge at any level. Never sat on any bench.

    I'm totally perplexed, why can't the liberals field better candidates ?

    Is their bench so weak?


  2. Tricolor Dog
    Report Abuse
    Tricolor Dog - February 08, 2013 10:56 am
    Roggensack is one of four that need to go.
  3. pal
    Report Abuse
    pal - February 08, 2013 7:02 am
    The media has to do a better job of informing the public about the importance of the primary election for State Supreme Court Justice. The Koch brothers, the De Vos family and all their sub-groups who are supporting the privatization of education, are anti-public education, who support "right to work" laws and all the ALEC agenda of Governor Walker, will be supporting Pat Roggensack. We are told that Supreme Court Justices are unbiased and not political. Why, then, would out-of-state billionaires support a candidate in Wisconsin?
  4. Lionhear
    Report Abuse
    Lionhear - February 07, 2013 9:25 pm
    Joe Shmega. Gotta love him.
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