Supreme Court Candidate Forum

Today, two WILL attorneys, Tom Kamenick and CJ Szafir, attended a candidate forum at the Milwaukee Bar Association featuring the three candidates for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  The candidates, incumbent Justice Pat Roggensack, Marquette law professor Ed Fallone, and lemon lawyer Vince Megna, took questions from the moderator and audience members.

In her opening remarks, Justice Roggensack highlighted her experience as a court of appeals judge and a current member of the state Supreme Court.  This experience matters, she said, because 80% of being a Supreme Court justice is determining whether other judges made the right decision.

For his part, Fallone stressed that the judicial branch must be the check on the legislative and executive branches because the latter branches are controlled by the special interests.  Therefore, he declared, we need an independent, fair-minded judiciary – which cannot be achieved with the current dysfunctional make-up of the court’s members.  Justice Roggensack countered that such gossip unfairly exaggerated the tensions on the court because in reality the court was having no problems getting its work – deciding cases – done.

Megna railed against the current conservative majority on the court and said that breaking it up was the reason he was running.  He unabashedly proclaimed that he was running as a “non-partisan Democrat.”

The debate got rather lively on a couple topics, including transparency on the court and recusal in the Prosser-Bradley matter.  Fallone criticized the court and Justice Roggensack for closing administrative conferences, while Roggensack defended the move by pointing to the increased efficiency the court had seen as a result.  Fallone also criticized Roggensack for recusing herself from the Prosser-Bradley issue, which left the court without a quorum to act.  Roggensack pointed out that due process and the statutory recusal rules required her and most of the other justices, as “material witnesses” to the altercation, to remove themselves from the case.  The two candidates engaged in a spirited but inconclusive debate over proper statutory interpretation.

On the question of judicial philosophy, Justice Roggensack said that she interprets a statute with what the legislature had in mind.  She said that she respects the different functions of government; often, she admitted, she disagrees with the policy behind a law, but she will uphold it if it does not violate the constitution.  She brought up the now-familiar metaphor of a judge being an umpire who calls balls and strikes.  Fallone echoed somewhat of a similar sentiment in calling himself a “process conservative,” in that he would limit his rulings to the narrowest ground possible and refrain from deciding issues that are not before the court.  He also claimed to understand the power of the state Supreme Court to be able to change the constitution and therefore, judges must exercise that power with great caution.

In closing, Justice Roggensack emphasized her history as a judge and vowed to be the only candidate to run a positive campaign.  Fallone countered that it is not negative to point out the dysfunction on the court.  Megna closed by proclaiming that his people weren’t in the audience (at the Milwaukee Bar), they were the average person: the poor, the truck drivers, and the waitresses.

The race is non-partisan with the primary on February 19.  The top two vote-getters will move on to the general election on April 2.

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