MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Pat Roggensack said Wednesday her “heart aches” over the approach taken by her opponent Ed Fallone in the race for the state’s highest court.
Fallone, a Marquette University law professor, blames Roggensack for contributing to what he calls a dysfunctional state Supreme Court best exemplified by a physical altercation in 2011 involving two other justices.
“The reason for the dysfunction is incivility among the justices,” Fallone said.
Roggensack and Fallone made their cases during a joint appearance before the Madison Rotary in advance of the April 2 election. The winner will serve a 10-year term.
Roggensack, who was first elected to the Supreme Court in 2003, said Fallone’s attacks on the court are counterproductive and intended to distract from what she says is his weakness – she has nearly 17 years’ experience as a judge versus none for Fallone.
“My heart aches a little bit with the choice my opponent has made for his campaign because he attacks the court as an institution,” Roggensack said. More needs to be done to educate the public about the good work the court is doing, she said.
Roggensack said Fallone’s criticism “creates further injury to the court. We will all lose if that perception is not repaired. I will work hard to continue to repair it.”
In the court’s most highly publicized incident, Justice David Prosser placed his hands around the neck of fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley in 2011. Prosser said he was making a defensive move, but charges have been brought against him alleging that he violated the judicial ethics code. Roggensack and two other justices have recused themselves from his case.
In another sign of discord, Prosser called Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson a derogatory name in 2010 in front of other justices.
In response to a question about whether the court should move out of the Capitol to be perceived as less political, Roggensack said that’s not the issue.
“We’re kind of in a political phase where people have developed a habit of where if they don’t like an opinion they say it’s political, if they do like it they say it’s well-reasoned,” Roggensack said. “It’s just a phase. I think we’ll pass through that just as we have other phases.”
Fallone rejected that.
“The court is not just going through a phase like some unruly teenager,” he said. “If it’s a phase, it’s a phase that’s been going on for at least three years.”
Fallone said one improvement the court could make would be to require justices to step aside in cases involving parties who had made political donations to members on the court. Roggensack was one of four justices who voted for the rule allowing such donations in 2009.
Allowing justices to hear those cases only opens the door to special interest money in judicial campaigns, Fallone said.
Spending in the past four Supreme Court races have averaged about $5 million each, with an average of about $3 million in each coming from outside groups. Spending hasn’t come close to that yet in this race. The only outside group to run ads so far in this year’s race is the conservative Club for Growth, which spent an estimated $300,000 in the primary in support of Roggensack.
Roggensack aired one TV ad in the primary and Fallone hasn’t run any.
Roggensack joined the other six justices in signing a letter in 2007 in support of public financing for Supreme Court races. She said Wednesday that significant public financing would reduce the influence of outside groups. Wisconsin has no public financing for Supreme Court races.
Fallone said big spending by outside groups dissuades potential candidates from getting into the race.