Wisconsin Supreme Court justice candidate Randy Koschnick squared off against incumbent Shirley Abrahamson in a debate Tuesday at the Madison Concourse Hotel hosted by the Dane County Bar Association.
Koschnick, the presiding judge of the Jefferson County Circuit Court and deputy chief judge of Wisconsin’s Third Judicial District, opened the debate by saying he is a conservative who believes the court should stick to precedent and a more literal interpretation of the Constitution.
“When judges engage in judicial activism, they usurp power from the legislature and steal power from the people,” Koschnick said.
Koschnick cited past cases of Abrahamson’s activism, such as the attempt by the Legislature to cap the amount patients could sue doctors for in medical malpractice lawsuits, ruled unconstitutional by the court, and the “Bloody Shirt” case, in which Abrahamson ruled against one of Koschnick’s clients, who claimed evidence was taken before he was read his Miranda rights.
Abrahamson, who has been on the Supreme Court since 1976, said she has always been fair and impartial and that no one is favored in her court.
“I listen to the facts, I study the law, and I apply the law to the facts in each case without a personal agenda,” Abrahamson said. “That’s what judges are supposed to do.”
Abrahamson also elaborated on her accomplishments as chief justice, including measures to help lenders and homeowners affected by foreclosure, and education for citizens defending themselves in court.
Of the various matters debated, one of the key topics was whether a judge should remove themselves from cases where one of the parties involved has contributed money to that judge’s campaign.
Koschnick said judges should definitely remove themselves in that situation because it affects their impartiality and criticized Abrahamson for not removing herself from cases where a party donated to her campaign.
“It is very difficult, if not impossible, to expect a judge to be fair and impartial when people have given contributions and have pending cases in front of that judge,” Koschnick said.
Abrahamson countered by saying it is not illegal to take public contributions to campaigns and that she has proven herself to be a fair and impartial judge.
“No contributor should force me out by contributing to me, and no contributor should think that I am going to be influenced in any way by a legal and relatively small donation,” Abrahamson said.
Abrahamson added the best means for a judge to avoid partiality is to have support from a broad spectrum of people like she has.
Heather Colburn, campaign manager for Abrahamson, said Abrahamson did a great job of showing she understands the needs of Wisconsin families and is very fair and impartial.
Colburn added Abrahamson will continue to stress her goal of a court that works for Wisconsin families in future debates.