By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — One of the candidates for the Wisconsin Supreme Court said Thursday that doesn’t have an opinion on proposals that would set a mandatory retirement age for judges and change the way the chief justice is selected, which wasn’t the case two weeks ago.
Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley said in an interview that he believes voters should decide the fate of the constitutional amendment that would give justices the power to select who serves as chief justice, rather than having it automatically go to the court’s most senior member.
He also said he had no opinion on an expected proposal in the Legislature setting the retirement age for judges at 75.
But in December, he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he supports “the right of the state Supreme Court justices to choose the chief justice, and I believe it is up to the voters to decide the competencies of a judge.”
Daley’s spokesman sent a statement to clarify Daley’s comments afterward.
“It is the personal opinion of Judge Daley that the state Supreme Court justices should have the right to choose the chief justice, but he believes the voters must make that decision,” his spokesman Brit Schiel said.
The statement did not address Daley’s conflicting comments on the mandatory retirement age proposal, which has yet to be put forward.
Daley’s comments came on the day that a state Assembly committee held a public hearing on the proposed chief justice constitutional amendment. The Republican-backed measure is one of the first proposals being considered in the opening week of the session and is viewed by opponents as an attack on current Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, a liberal who has served as head of the court for 18 years.
Daley is running against Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, a frequent ally of Abrahamson’s, for a 10-year term. The election is April 7.
“I think the people should make a decision,” Daley said of the chief justice amendment. He noted that only five states have Wisconsin’s system for choosing a chief justice.
“I can see where it can cause friction on a court, especially when the most senior person is not of the same judicial philosophy,” Daley said.
The Legislature would have to pass the measure this session and voters would have to approve it in a statewide election before it could take effect. If passed quickly, it could appear on the same April 7 ballot where Daley faces Bradley.
Abrahamson opposes the chief justice selection change and an expected bill that would set a mandatory retirement age of 75 for all judges.
Daley, who is 67, said he has no opinion on the mandatory retirement age bill. If enacted, that would cut his term short by about two years.
“I don’t know a thing about it,” Daley said. “I don’t know if it would affect me or not, it really depends on when it is enacted.”
Bradley, 64, would be able to serve a full term, minus one day.
Bradley released a statement on both the mandatory retirement proposal and chief justice selection measure.
“The real question is whether the legislative proposals can retroactively undo the vote of the people of Wisconsin who elected a chief justice and justices for ten year terms,” she said. “To suggest that the legislature can or should adopt either measure appears to elevate politics over law.”
The retirement age bill would immediately affect Abrahamson, who is 81, as well as Justice Patrick N. Crooks, who is 76, as well as numerous lower court judges.
The measure would have to pass both the Senate and Assembly, which are controlled by Republicans, and be signed by Gov. Scott Walker before taking effect.
Walker’s spokeswoman, Laurel Patrick, did not immediately respond to an email asking the governor’s position on the idea.Follow @sbauerAP