By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A Dane County judge who drew fire from conservatives for a ruling last year halting implementation of Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining law said Thursday that she is considering a run next year for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Judge Maryann Sumi said she hoped to make a decision in the next two weeks whether to take on conservative Justice Patience Roggensack. Sumi said she is working with a nonpartisan group of people helping her explore the possibility of a run.
Roggensack said she’s been busy organizing support from both Republicans and Democrats across the state, not knowing who may challenge her.
“Anybody who wants to run can run,” she said. “The focus has to be on what the candidates, whoever they end up being, can bring to the job.”
Races for the state Supreme Court are officially nonpartisan, but they have grown costly and more and more political in recent years. Opponents of Walker turned last year’s race between Justice David Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg into a referendum on Walker’s law effectively ending collective bargaining rights for most public workers.
A Sumi candidacy would almost certainly guarantee another bitter battle, given how her ruling last year angered conservatives and emboldened Walker opponents.
Sumi, 64, acknowledged the race would be expensive and said that weighs into her decision-making process. She said she had been approached a number of the times over her 15-year career as a judge about running for the Supreme Court.
She declined to say what her motivation would be for running this year or whether she was approached by others urging her to get into the race.
“I haven’t made up my mind yet,” she said.
Roggensack was part of a conservative majority of four judges who overturned Sumi’s ruling last year, saying she overstepped her authority, and kept the collective bargaining law in place. Large portions of the law have since been struck down by a different judge in a separate lawsuit that is being appealed by Walker.
That case and other high-profile cases could be headed to the Supreme Court next year, including whether voters should be required to show photo identification at the polls.
Sumi ruled in May 2011 that Republican lawmakers violated the state open meetings law in the process of passing the union law. She stopped the law from taking effect, giving a temporary victory to unions and Democrats who were opposed to the measure.
But the ruling enraged Republicans, some of whom labeled Sumi an activist judge acting out a liberal agenda from the bench. Sumi tried to downplay the ruling, noting that it was one of hundreds she has handled over her career.
“I’ve seen high profile cases, I’ve seen low profile,” she said. “It’s not like they’re all the same.”
Roggensack said the most important issue in the race will be what experience the candidates bring to the job. She noted that she’s the only justice with the court who previously served as a state appeals court judge.
“I think this race is about my experience and what I have brought to the court, about the hard work I’ve done,” she said.
Debate among the justices over their collective bargaining ruling was so heated that the day before it came out, Prosser placed his hands on the neck of Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, one of the three justices who wanted Sumi’s ruling to stand.
Roggensack has said she would not take part in considering a complaint brought against Prosser by the state’s Judicial Commission, saying she is a material witness and must recuse herself according to state law.
Sumi told Isthmus the Supreme Court desperately needs a change.
“It’s no secret the court is in a lot of trouble,” she said. “It’s dysfunctional. I’m not the first one to say that.”
Justices are elected to 10-year terms. Roggensack was elected in 2003 and faces re-election next year.
Candidates can take out nominating papers on Dec. 1 and they are due Jan. 2. If more than two candidates enter the race, there would be a primary Feb. 19. The election is April 2.
Sumi was appointed to the bench in 1998 by Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson. She has won re-election three times since, most recently last year, for a term that ends in 2017.