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State Supreme Court candidates tout need for civility (UPDATE)

Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates Ed Fallone (from left), Vince Megna and incumbent Pat Roggensack square off during an hour-long forum Thursday at the Milwaukee Bar Association. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

The battle for an open Wisconsin Supreme Court seat could come down to civility, according to candidates at a pre-election forum Thursday.

During a candidate forum held by the Milwaukee Bar Association, Ed Fallone and Vince Megna, who are challenging incumbent Justice Pat Roggensack for her seat on the bench, both said they can bring “civility” to the court.

Roggensack, who said she regrets that the animosity on the court has become a topic of public discussion, dismissed as gossip most of the reports about spats between the justices.

“If we were really after each other constantly, screaming and yelling at each other,” Roggensack said Thursday, “do you think I’d be seeking another 10-year term on this court?”

Fallone, a law professor at Marquette University, said legal experts have often observed that changing one member of a court can greatly alter its complexion. He said he is adept at brokering compromises and could help bring civility back to the court.

Andrew Coan, an assistant professor of law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said there is certainly anecdotal evidence to suggest a new justice can influence how well other members of the court get along. The difficulty comes in quantifying how common such changes are, he said.

“I think there is a lot better evidence that new justices change things more through their votes than through altering the personal dynamics on the court,” Coan said.

Megna, a lawyer who specializes in consumer protection, said he doubts one person can greatly change the court but said he could help to bring a note of civility to its proceedings.

Both he and Fallone faulted Roggensack for not moving faster to resolve questions related to a 2011 incident in which one supreme court justice was alleged to have choked another.

“We have had almost two years and nothing has been done,” Megna said in an interview after the forum. “When are we going to get this resolved?”

During the forum, Roggensack said she had suggested a means of resolving the matter to her fellow justices in August, but they hadn’t heeded her.

“My colleagues didn’t buy my suggestion,” she said, “but I will continue to work on it because we need to put that behind us.”

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