By Steve Schuster
Wisconsin Supreme Court justice candidate Dan Kelly accused the news media of inconsistencies and his opponent, Janet Protasiewicz, of lying. He further claimed Protasiewicz slandered him and all other criminal defense attorneys while answering questions before a panel of reporters on topics ranging from abortion and election fraud to gerrymandering and collective bargaining.
The Wisconsin Law Journal and The Daily Reporter were in attendance along with journalists from across the state and members of the general public during a joint event that was hosted by the Milwaukee Press Club and Milwaukee Rotary on Tuesday. The panelists included Charles Benson with TMJ4, Corrinne Hess with The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and Victor Jacobo with CBS 58 and Telemundo Wisconsin.
Kelly’s opponent, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz, declined an invitation to the joint event, citing a scheduling conflict as the reason.
Calling the ads run against him by Protasiewicz “nothing but a dirty path of lies,” Kelly encouraged the media and general public to fact check her ads.
“Anyone can look at the public record and see that’s not true,” Kelly said.
A spokesperson for the Protasiewicz campaign disagreed.
“Dan Kelly’s entire record is a sham. He is an extreme, right-wing politician who is desperate to hide his record of corruption on the bench and taking radical positions on abortion, Social Security and more. Dan Kelly and his billionaire allies have been lying about Janet from day one,” said the Protasiewicz campaign spokesperson.
Kelly specifically referenced an allegation in Protasiewicz’s ads where she claimed Kelly represented clients who were accused of sexual abuse of minors.
“My opponent wants everyone in the state of Wisconsin to believe that I represented them through trial,” Kelly said.
“There is also slander … (Protasiewicz) says the only reason that (Kelly) represented (clients accused of sexually assaulting minors) is because he likes the type of crime his clients were accused of committing. And that is preposterous and I’d even go so far as to say that is a truly stupid thing to say … there is no intelligence behind it, there is no reasoning and there are no facts and yet she says it anyway,” Kelly said.
“It’s a slander against me, but not just against me, it’s a slander against all attorneys who handle criminal defense matters, suggesting that all of them like the kinds of crimes their clients are charged with committing. I’ve known hundreds of defense attorneys over the years and I’ve yet to meet one who approves of the crimes their clients are accused of committing. That’s preposterous,” Kelly said.
A spokesperson for the Protasiewicz campaign once again disagreed.
“Wisconsinites can follow the facts in all of our ads and see the truth for themselves. After he pocketed $20,000, he decided to un-recuse himself in the Zignego case. After being closely tied to a right-wing group, he ruled in their favor more than six times – even after litigants asked for his recusal. The former chair of the Republican Party of Wisconsin revealed to the January 6th commission that Kelly was the right-wing lawyer behind the scenes in the fake elector scheme that led to the attack on the U.S. Capitol. These are clear facts and should be disqualifying for any candidate,” a Protasiewicz campaign spokesperson said.
“As a veteran prosecutor who has dedicated her career to protecting the rights of victims, Judge Protasiewicz has earned the reputation for being fair and impartial. She is running for Supreme Court because extreme political positions and self-interest should never be put above the law and the constitutional rights of Wisconsinites,” a Protasiewicz campaign spokesperson added.
Critical of his media coverage, especially coverage about fake electors, Kelly alleged that “there are stories out there … that are wildly inconsistent.”
Kelly said despite a 30-minute conversation with officials on fake electors, he was still not “in the loop.”
“And yet the article goes on to say I that was in the center of the whole thing. I’m not sure how that’s supposed to work, how you cannot be in the loop and in the center of the whole thing simultaneously, of course you can’t,” Kelly said.
NBC News described Kelly as “A Donald Trump ally who advised Republicans on legal efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential race.”
However, Kelly said in his tenure of practicing law he’s had a very diverse client base.
“I’ve represented people from all-across the political spectrum. They came to me because they saw in me a good lawyer. I understand that’s why all of my clients came to me, not because of my politics,” Kelly said, noting that one of his clients was the Republican Party.
Historically, Republicans have been hands off with regulation on guns, the environment, and railway safety. When it comes to abortion why is that an exception? Why should someone in Madison or Washington, D.C., be able to regulate such a personal decision for a woman, the Wisconsin Law Journal asked Kelly during the event.
In response, Kelly said, “It’s a great question and I think there are some folks that you can ask about it who would probably give you a pretty good answer, but out of all the folks that might give you good answer, it doesn’t include me, you need to talk to some legislators about that.”
Meanwhile over at the Republican controlled Wisconsin Legislature, a measure was introduced Wednesday creating an exception to the state’s 1849 abortion ban in cases of rape and incest.
In past years, Republicans have been known as the “small government party.” However, in more recent times, that has evolved and now the GOP has been involved in regulation of not just abortion, but also rights pertaining to what’s taught in classrooms, transgender and LGBTQ rights.
“The only thing Republicans don’t regulate these days are what could hurt big corporations,” said a Wisconsin government attorney, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Kelly was extremely critical of his opponent receiving a significant amount of out-of-state donations for her campaign.
“I’ve been told the eyes of the nation are upon us as we approach April 4. If the spending is any indication of that, it’s certainly true. … I think the nation needs to get out a little bit more. This is a Wisconsin matter. We can take care of Wisconsin business here,” Kelly said.
However, as previously reported by the Wisconsin Law Journal, like Protasiewicz, Kelly too has been filling his campaign war chest with out-of-state dollars.
Noting Kelly’s association with former Gov. Walker, The Daily Reporter asked Kelly if he would impartially handle the state’s right-to-work law if the issue was brought before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Kelly said he would no longer apply the rule of law as a jurist in the event the Legislature repealed the current law.
In a previous interview with the Wisconsin Law Journal, Kelly expressed his views on unions and Act 10. He said his personal opinion were as “irrelevant to the work of the court as my favorite Italian dish.”
Enacted in June 2011, Act 10 reduced collective bargaining rights for state employees, including K-12 teachers. Public employees and teachers were required to pay more toward retirement and health care plans. The action drew as many as 100,000 protestors to the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison.
The “right-to-work” law bars employers and labor unions from entering into agreements where employees are required to join a union as a condition of employment, a memo from the Wisconsin Legislative Council said.
“Under the Act, a private sector employer may not enter into an agreement with a labor organization that requires employees in a collective bargaining unit to be members of a labor organization as a condition of employment,” according to the council memo.
Questions about gerrymandering were also raised during Tuesday’s press event.
Johns Hopkins Political Science Professor Matthew Crenson previously said during an interview with the Wisconsin Law Journal that he has been following Wisconsin legal news and that he was shocked by the voter ID laws and gerrymandering of maps in the state during recent times.
“Wisconsin used to be known as one of the most progressive states in our nation,” Crenson said. “I would have expected this (voter suppression tactics) from places like Mississippi and Alabama, but never in a place like Wisconsin. Wisconsin is deeply rooted with strong academic institutions that don’t exist in other states. Yet, the Wisconsin Legislature has taken steps to restrict voting. Clearly the Republicans in Wisconsin have tried to seize control to grasp at whatever they can. But make no mistake, the future doesn’t look bright for future Republicans. Wisconsin’s right-wing had better be careful. If they push things too far, the state’s Democrats will mobilize and reset the balance in the state.”
Other’s in the D.C. area also closely following.
On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton formally endorsed Protasiewicz in a tweet to her 31.5 million followers.
This story has been updated.