By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Longtime Madison attorney Claude Covelli entered the Wisconsin Supreme Court race Wednesday, casting himself as a nonpartisan voice beholden to no political party or special interest.
Covelli, a practicing attorney in Wisconsin for 43 years with an emphasis on insurance law, becomes the fourth announced candidate for the state’s highest court. Also running are Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley, 4th District Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg and Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joe Donald.
Supreme Court races are officially nonpartisan, but in recent years big money and partisan interests have lined up behind candidates as conservatives and liberals fight for control. Conservative judges, including Bradley, currently hold a 5-2 majority on the court.
Bradley was appointed to the Supreme Court by Gov. Scott Walker on Oct. 9 to fill out the remainder of Patrick Crooks’ term. He died in office in September and his term runs through the end of July.
Bradley had already declared she was running for a full term on the court before Crooks died and she was appointed. Kloppenburg and Donald were also announced candidates, but neither applied for the vacancy.
Covelli applied but was passed over for Bradley, whom Walker had twice appointed to other judicial vacancies. Bradley has the backing of conservatives in the run for a full term on the court.
Donald, like Covelli, describes himself as the true nonpartisan in the race.
“I think people really want and are looking for a person on the court that’s free from any taint or political obligation,” Covelli said.
Donald spokesman Garren Randolph said, “We are confident that when people stack up experience and values that Joe Donald will come out ahead.”
Donald has been on the circuit court since 1996 when he was appointed by then-Gov. Tommy Thompson, a Republican. He previously worked seven years as an assistant Milwaukee city attorney.
Bradley and Kloppenburg did not immediately return messages seeking comment on Covelli’s entrance into the race.
All four will square off in a Feb. 16 primary. The top two vote-getters will advance to the general election on April 5. The winner’s 10-year term on the court begins in August.
Kloppenburg is supported by Democrats and lost in the 2011 Supreme Court election to Justice David Prosser, who had the backing of conservatives and is a former Republican speaker of the state Assembly.
Covelli, 68, said he will appeal to voters looking to elect someone “who’s got a lot of experience and who’s resolved thousands of cases all over the state of Wisconsin.”
Covelli said he’s handled more than 4,000 legal disputes in nearly every Wisconsin county since becoming an attorney in 1972, and he’s tried more than 200 cases including about 100 appeals.
A native of Kenosha, Covelli was raised in Racine and graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School.Follow @sbauerAP