Just a day before the Wisconsin Supreme Court election, issues of each candidate’s experience, courtroom dysfunction and the impact of donations to judges by parties involved in court hearings continue to dominate the race.
Associate law professor at Marquette University Ed Fallone is challenging the incumbent State Supreme Court justice, Patience Roggensack.
Roggensack won February’s primary by 34 points and had outspent her opponent by a three-to-one margin through early February. However, a recent poll suggests the challenger may be the more qualified candidate, despite having no experience as a judge.
Friday’s poll results from the Dane County Bar Association reveal Fallone holds a 3.09 to 2.48 advantage over Roggensack based on combined ratings on a 2-4 point scale for 10 criteria deemed important characteristics for a good judge.
“It just goes to show how affected Wisconsinites are by the dysfunction of the court and that’s exactly what Ed will change when he’s elected,” Fallone’s spokesperson Brad Wojciechowski said.
Yet, the same poll acknowledges only three of the association’s 160 Judicial Selection Committee members had direct legal experience with Fallone.
Conversely, the majority of the 171 respondents had direct experience with Roggensack, who is now completing her 10th year as justice for the state’s highest court.
Roggensack’s campaign adviser Brandon Scholz said he hopes his candidate’s judicial background may help voters lean in the incumbent’s favor over the unproven Fallone.
“Who’s got experience? Who understands how the court works”? Scholz asked. “That’s what voters focus on. … Professor Fallone certainly doesn’t have the kind of experience that he might need.”
According to Wojciechowski, Fallone wants to restore order to the Wisconsin’s Supreme Court system. Under Roggensack’s leadership, the court has seen “hostility, ill will and retribution,” which has led to a lack of productivity in court decisions, Wojciechowski said.
Scholz refuted these claims of Supreme Court dysfunction, noting only four of the 60 cases in the 2011-2012 legislative session had a narrow 4-3 voting split.
“He contends that justices disagree on issues,” Scholz said. “Well, guess what? That’s not new. That’s why there are seven justices there who all have their own opinion.”
Another key issue for voters in Tuesday’s election will be a contentious 4-3 split court ruling in 2009. Roggensack sided with the majority in deciding a judge should not be required to be removed from a legal proceeding because he or she received campaign donations from a party involved in the hearing.
Wojciechowski said the Wisconsin Realtors Association and Wisconsin Manufacturers Commerce wrote the language regarding donations word-for-word. He added he wants this ruling overturned as he believes it is “legalized bribery,” as The Capital Times called it in 2010.
“When a party is in a courtroom and that party loses, they need to be ensured they had a fair and impartial hearing,” Wojciechowski said.
The justice’s campaign adviser added he does not think campaign contributions of $10,000 or less will not make a difference in justice rulings.
He called it “ridiculous” a State Supreme Court judge could be bought off by such a small sum of money.
“I honestly don’t think any justice on that court, any of the seven, are going to take a contribution from somebody and then vote their way,” Scholz said. “They can’t. They have to write an opinion that justifies their decision.”