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Voters head to polls to choose high court justices, trial judges

By: Erika Strebel, [email protected]//April 5, 2016//

Voters head to polls to choose high court justices, trial judges

By: Erika Strebel, [email protected]//April 5, 2016//

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Wisconsin voters cast their ballots in the state's primary at the South Shore Park Pavilion on Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Voters cast their ballots in the state’s primary at the South Shore Park Pavilion on Tuesday in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Although most attention is now on the contested races in Wisconsin’s presidential primary, voters who head to the polls Tuesday will also have their say in various judicial races.

At least one of those contests has been big enough to be noticed by the presidential candidates themselves. Hillary Clinton criticized Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley during a campaign stop in Milwaukee on Saturday for columns Bradley had written as a college student decades ago. Among the targets Bradley had lashed out against were gays, supporters of abortion rights and Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton.

In her bid to stay on the court, Bradley faces District 4 Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg. Whoever wins Tuesday’s contest will occupy the Supreme Court seat once held by Justice Patrick Crooks. Crooks had said he would not run for re-election and then died suddenly in September.

Outside spending

By the end of March, outside groups had spent nearly $2 million on television ads for the Supreme Court election, according to Federal Communications Commission records analyzed by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, groups that track spending in judicial races. Total spending on TV ads for the entire race, including the primary, has reached nearly $3 million.

The two groups that have dominated the TV spending so far are Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, which supports Bradley, and the Greater Wisconsin Committee, which supports Kloppenburg. The Greater Wisconsin Committee, according to Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center, has spent nearly $350, 000 on TV ads for the general election, while Wisconsin Alliance for Reform has spent nearly $1.1 million.

The state’s most expensive Supreme Court election came in 2011, when Kloppenburg ran against Justice David Prosser. Total spending in that election hit more than $5 million. Of that, $3.7 million was spent by outside groups.

Donors weigh in on high court race

According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, another group that tracks political spending, the biggest donors to the Supreme Court candidates turn out to be essentially the same people who can usually be found giving money to the two major political parties at election time.

Among Bradley’s top supporters are Diane Hendricks, CEO of ABC Supply Co., who gave $15,000, and Jere Fabick, president of FABCO Equipment, who gave $20,000. The state Republican Party has also given more than $69,000 to Bradley’s campaign.

Kloppenburg’s top donors included Lynde Uihlein, president of Brico Fund, who gave $20,000, and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, who gave $10,000. Kloppenburg has also received more than $55,000 in political-action-committee contributions from teachers unions, who usually back Democratic candidates.

Other judicial races

Beyond the state Supreme Court, there are 10 contested races for judge positions throughout the state. Two of the races are in Milwaukee County.

The candidates battling it out for Milwaukee County’s Branch 31 are Hannah Dugan, attorney at Law Offices of Hannah C. Dugan LLC; and Judge Paul Rifelj, the incumbent.

Judge Michelle Ackerman Havas, an incumbent, and Jean Kies, attorney at the Law Offices of Jean Kies, are vying for a seat on Branch 45.

The remaining races are in Eau Claire, Portage, Rusk, Kewaunee, Iowa, Racine, Walworth and Sauk counties.

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