One of three candidates for an open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court will be eliminated Tuesday in the primary election, allowing two candidates to advance to April 3.
The winner of the April 3 election will claim the seat of retiring Justice Jon Wilcox and fill a ten-year term on the state's highest court.
According to Oregon, Wis. defense attorney Joseph Sommers — a financial underdog in a race that some experts predict will be the most expensive Supreme Court race in Wisconsin history — a victory in the primary election will secure his campaign public financing to the tune of more than $60,000.
However, Sommers said his financial disadvantage is not necessarily holding him back in the race at all.
"People aren't giving me a lot of money, but I think that should count in my favor," Sommers said. "If you give me money, it won't have an effect on me. … It speaks to my integrity."
While Sommers said the other candidates have received donations from "very wealthy people," he said he is not seeking to appeal to that demographic.
"I've been representing ordinary people," Sommers said. "Ordinary people just don't give the money that wealthy people give."
Madison attorney Linda Clifford, also vying for the judicial seat, said there is definitely a need to "investigate a way to deal with … expenses."
However, if a proposed cap were too low, Clifford said, a challenger would be automatically disadvantaged due to the notoriety enjoyed by incumbents.
Clifford said she is also concerned about out-of-state special interest money that "seems to be coming into the state to influence the judicial system."
But Herbert Kritzer, a University of Wisconsin political science professor, contends that "regardless of how much money is spent on this election, it's not going to bring out voters."
Voters, he said, insist on electing judges but ultimately do not show up to vote for them.
The third Supreme Court candidate, Washington County Circuit Court Judge Annette Ziegler, was the only candidate to air television ads before the primary. The ad touts Ziegler's endorsements from district attorneys and county sheriffs on both sides of the political fence.
Ziegler did not return a message from The Badger Herald seeking comment as of press time.
Clifford said she didn't feel running ads before the primary would be the "wisest use of our resources," but anticipated running ads after the primary.
The open seat, a statutory nonpartisan position, has been largely billed by media as Republican versus Democrat due to the candidates' respective campaign donors.
Sommers said his opponents are intentionally appearing partisan, but most of the political hype lies with media coverage.
Despite political speculation, all three candidates bring unique qualities to the table.
Ziegler is the only candidate with experience as a judge and has already served for nearly a decade in Washington County. She was also a prosecutor and an attorney in private practice.
Sommers, the only candidate with experience as a defense attorney, said he knows how difficult it is to prove an innocent person not guilty, and noted the justice system today is "stacked against the little people."
He accused Ziegler and Clifford of "living in an ivory tower," and touted his record in jury trials, calling himself a justice-motivated person.
Clifford, meanwhile, pointed to her 32 years of experience as an attorney as a reason the public should vote for her.
"I hope the public would recognize the need to diversify the Supreme Court with different professional backgrounds," Clifford said. "All seven justices have something unique to offer."