By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly accused his challenger Jill Karofsky on Thursday of slandering him and lying about him to advance her own political career, ramping up the rancor in their race for a 10-year spot on the high court.
The conservative-leaning Kelly will face the liberals Karofsky and Ed Fallone in a Feb. 18 primary. The top two vote-getters will advance to the general election on April 7.
The three candidates appeared at a Milwaukee Bar Association forum on Thursday. Karofsky opened up by renewing accusations that Kelly is corrupt because he constantly rules in favor of conservative groups that come before the court. She leveled the same attack during the candidates’ first forum in November.
“Voters see justices who don’t follow the rule of law,” Karofsky said. “They see justices acting like politicians and all that feels like corruption to people.”
Kelly shot back that Karofsky’s accusations are “disgusting slander.”
“That is completely ridiculous. I’m outraged by it. I categorically reject that,” Kelly said, adding that he would take the accusations out back and throw them in the garbage.
Kelly kept returning to the accusations as the forum went on, telling Karofsky that she’s spreading lies about him and challenging her to find one opinion he’s written that isn’t supported by what he called “rigorous logic.”
“I’ve never had my honor and integrity called into question … until now, when it suits your political ambition. This is about your personal advancement and you don’t care who you lie about.”
Karofsky countered by pointing out that Kelly has sided with the court’s conservative majority in ignoring precedent and procedures for taking cases. The court in June ruled that the governor can control public-school policy, reversing its own ruling from 2016 finding that the state schools superintendent can draw up regulations without any oversight. And last year the majority decided to take a case challenging Republican lame-duck laws limiting Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul’s powers without any hearing in lower courts.
That seemed to further enrage Kelly, who accused Karofsky of impugning Chief Justice Pat Roggensack, whom he called a “paragon of integrity.”
“You owe me an apology for this slander,” he said. “If you didn’t have slander, you wouldn’t have a campaign.”
“Dan Kelly, I’m not going to be bullied by you,” Karofsky shot back.
“She can’t even be bothered to apologize to an institution,” he told the audience, referring to Roggensack. “That tells you everything you need to know. She does not have the judgment or the character to get anywhere near the Supreme Court.”
Fallone, for his part, tried to stay above the fray. He said no one wants to watch justices argue like this.
“I keep hearing ‘thank yous’ for keeping politics out of the race,” he said.
Kelly launched the first television ad of the race earlier in the day. The ad shows Kelly admiring a copy of the U.S. Constitution. “Perfection,” he says proudly. He goes on to declare that “America’s great, da Bears stink, no judge should rewrite the law.”
The ad makes no mention of Karofsky or Fallone.
Kelly’s campaign manager, Charles Nichols, said the ad will play through the primary in Milwaukee, Wausau, Green Bay, La Crosse, Madison, Minneapolis and Duluth, Minnesota. He said the buy was a little more than $150,000.