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Supreme Court candidates debate partisanship on high court, tout experience (UPDATE)

The three candidates for Wisconsin Supreme Court debated concerns about partisanship within the high court at their first public forum.

State Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly is seeking election to a full 10-year term. Former Gov. Scott Walker appointed him in 2016 when Justice David Prosser Jr. retired. Kelly’s challengers are the Marquette University Law School professor Ed Fallone and Dane County Circuit Court Judge Jill Karofsky.

The candidates talked on Tuesday about their judicial ideas, experiences and the polarized state of the judiciary. Fallone and Karofsky questioned Kelly’s rulings since 2016 and brought up his support from right-wing partisan groups.

“Every case I look at, I take a look at the law,” Kelly said. “I exercise a particular methodology to do that. When you get done, and you can see an unbroken chain … that’s your guarantee that the law mandated the outcome. I judge it according to what the law requires. It starts and ends law.”

Karofsky and Kelly touted their judicial experience. Karofsky made several references to the 1,700 cases she said she heard last year.

“Unlike my opponents, I am in a courtroom every day,” Karofsky said. “Everyone needs to be treated fairly. Everyone needs to be treated respectfully. I follow the rule of law every day.”

Fallone cited his scholarly experience and knowledge, saying he’s been working to make the justice system more accessible. He called himself the “most qualified person sitting at this table in terms of what the court actually does.”

“It’s not about the narrow category of being a trial judge,” Fallone said. “I’m proud that I’ve represented a variety of clients. It’s about understanding the perspectives of many people.”

All three candidates will appear on a nonpartisan primary ballot on Feb. 18. The top two candidates will run in the general election scheduled for April 2.

About Michaela Paukner, mpaukner@wislawjournal.com

Michaela Paukner is the legal reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal. She can be reached at (414) 225-1825 or by email at mpaukner@wislawjournal.com.

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