Candidate better known than Supreme Court Chief, poll shows

Legal News Line Mar. 16, 2007, 7:22am

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson

MADISON -- Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson earlier this week asked a legislative committee to support a bill increasing funding for the state's court system. Her timing turned out to be a little unfortunate. A poll released today shows that when it comes to matters concerning the Supreme Court, most Wisconsin voters likely could care less. The poll, commissioned by the Federalist Society and reported today on, shows 78 percent don't know how many justices sit on the Supreme Court. Eighty-four per cent could not name a single Supreme Court judge and only nine percent correctly named Abrahamson. The poll of 509 likely voters was taken just over a week ago on March 1-4. That's one month before a crucial vote for a Wisconsin Supreme Court vacancy due April 3. Perhaps because of the extensive pre-poll publicity, conservative candidate Annette Ziegler was incorrectly identified as a Supreme Court judge by 11 percent of voters. Her liberal opponent, Linda Clifford, was similarly misidentified by 4 percent. Nonetheless, Abrahamson Wednesday made the case before the Wisconsin legislature's Joint Committee on Finance to support the governor-backed Senate Bill 40. It will fund recommendations from the Wisconsin Supreme Court's Planning and Policy Advisory Committee (PPAC). These include improving aid to the self-represented, courthouse security, imprisonment alternatives and drug/alcohol treatment for defendants. Budget constraints, technology issues, community outreach and collaboration with other bureaucracies are the main challenges, the study found. One of the few hard numbers Abrahamson cited from SB40 was "an additional $19 million over the biennium" to support the Circuit Court Support payment program. The program pays for court reporters and other judicial personnel. "As I have traveled across the state in my 72 county visits, I have learned that timely justice requires properly staffed district attorney and public defender offices," Abrahamson told the committee. "The circuit courts depend on prosecutors and defense counsel being available for court hearings." Meanwhile, back in the real world, 67 per cent of Wisconsin's voters favor the current non-partisan system for judicial elections. That means the candidates run without an endorsed-party label.

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