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Panel scolds Wisconsin justice for remarks in Trump case

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Jill Karofsky speaks during a Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate’s forum in the offices of Foley & Lardner in Madison in 2019. Karofsky released documents to The Associated Press on Saturday showing that the Wisconsin Judicial Commission dismissed a complaint against a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who accused a Donald Trump attorney of making racist contentions and trying to protect his “king” in a case challenging the 2020 election results. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP, File)

By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A judicial oversight commission has dismissed a complaint against a liberal-leaning Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who accused an attorney for former President Donald Trump of making racist contentions and trying to protect his “king” in a case challenging the 2020 election results in the battleground state.

Judicial complaints are confidential under Wisconsin law but Justice Jill Karofsky released documents to The Associated Press on Saturday that show a retired attorney in Maryland filed one against her with the Wisconsin Judicial Commission two years ago. The commission decided in November 2022 not to discipline her but warned her to remain neutral and avoid making sarcastic remarks from the bench.

Karofsky’s attorney remained defiant, telling the commission in a letter Tuesday that Karofsky was trying to save the U.S. government and accusing the panel of allowing itself to become a political weapon.

“The Judicial Code (sic) requires judges to act with impartiality towards the parties, but it does not require a judge to turn a blind-eye to dangerous, bad-faith conduct by a lawyer or litigant,”

Karofsky said in an email to the AP, quoting a passage from one of her attorney’s responses to the commission. “It is beyond reason to read the Code to require judges to be mouse-like quiet when parties are arguing in favor of a slow-motion coup.”

Trump filed suit in Wisconsin in December 2020 after a recount confirmed Democrat Joe Biden had won the state by about 21,000 votes. The filing was one of scores of lawsuits Trump filed across multiple states in an unsuccessful attempt to overturn the election results and remain in office.

The Wisconsin lawsuit asked the state Supreme Court to toss out about 171,000 absentee ballots cast in Dane and Milwaukee counties. The conservative-leaning court ultimately rejected the lawsuit by a 4-3 vote, with swing Justice Brian Hagedorn casting the deciding vote to uphold Biden’s victory in the battleground state.

Maryland attorney Fletcher Thompson filed a complaint against Karofsky in January 2021 accusing her of being hostile toward Trump attorney Jim Troupis. He noted that during oral arguments Karofsky told Troupis that the lawsuit “smacks of racism” because it sought to toss out absentee ballots in Wisconsin’s two most diverse counties.

Thompson added that Karofsky later told Troupis that he wanted the court to overturn the election results “so that your king can stay in power” and said that suggesting the election was marred by fraud was “nothing short of shameful.”

Thompson accused Karofsky of being discourteous and inappropriately launching personal attacks against Troupis. He said her remarks revealed a political and racial bias. He noted that Trump endorsed Karofsky’s opponent, Daniel Kelly, during their race in spring 2020.

Karofsky attorney Stacie Rosenzweig admonished the judicial commission in her Feb. 7 letter for letting partisan actors “hijack the (judicial) disciplinary system, in an attempt to silence a justice who rightfully tried to stop frivolous and dangerous arguments that undermined our democracy.”

“We believe the Commission risks setting a dangerous precedent,” Rosenzweig wrote. “By allowing the Commission to be weaponized in this fashion, the Commission became a pawn of those determined to undermine an independent judiciary.”

Thompson said in a telephone interview on Saturday that he wasn’t aware the commission had decided not to discipline Karfosky. He said he wished the commission had taken action against her, but he wasn’t disappointed with the outcome since he didn’t expect the commission would even investigate when he filed his complaint.

But he said he was stunned that Rosenzweig accused the panel of being a political pawn. He said he’s just a retired attorney who watched the oral arguments on YouTube and he has no ties to Trump or Trump’s campaign.


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