Wis. SC race could have lasting effect

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Mar 22, 2011


MADISON, Wis. (Legal Newsline) - Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser is facing a stiff challenge from Assistant Attorney General JoAnne F. Kloppenburg for his seat on the high court.

Wisconsin voters will head to the polls on April 5 to decide the fate of the incumbent, who has sat on the state Supreme Court since 1998. His opponent, Kloppenburg, has been a litigator and prosecutor with the state Department of Justice since 1989.

The election, itself, hasn't been without controversy, according to local media.

According to WISN-TV, a tax-exempt "independent issue advocate" called the Greater Wisconsin Committee has been accused of running ads targeting Prosser.

Executive Director Michelle McGrorty, when asked about it by the TV station, denied any involvement in the election campaign.

However, the committee has a page on its website entirely devoted to the race.

At the top, it says, "David Prosser's top aide says Prosser will be a complement to Scott Walker and the conservative-dominated state Legislature!"

Then it shows photos of Prosser and Walker side-by-side with the words "Prosser = Walker" written over them.

Below the photos of the two, the page says, "Tell Justice David Prosser: 'A justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court should not be working to further the Walker agenda. We need justices on the court who will be fair and impartial.'"

Then the committee encourages visitors to get the message out by "donating today," followed by its message to Prosser:

"We want judicial independence, not a justice who supports Walker's anti-working family agenda for Wisconsin. Members of our state's highest court should have the utmost standards of independence and integrity. Greater Wisconsin Committee will continue our efforts to communicate these messages to Wisconsinites."

But the controversy hasn't stopped there.

The state Justice Department is appealing the temporary restraining order issued by Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi on Gov. Scott Walker's collective bargaining bill.

Sumi made her ruling Friday morning. In it, she said a legislative committee violated the state's open meetings law when it approved a new version of Walker's budget bill on March 9.

The bill has been a source of controversy for weeks, eliminating nearly all collective bargaining rights for those public employee union members. Walker, a Republican, had proposed the bill in response to state budget deficits.

Now, the two Court candidates are attacking each other's ability to be impartial in such a case.

On Monday, during a debate at Marquette University, Prosser told the audience he would provide "moderate sound judgment." Kloppenburg said she would be independent and fair, according to The Associated Press.

"I, unlike my opponent, will approach cases with an open mind and without having prejudice on the matters that come before the Court," she said. "I, unlike my opponent, will move the Court forward, away from partisan and personal quarrels."

Though the race is nonpartisan, Prosser is perceived as part of the conservative majority on the Court. If Kloppenburg wins, it would possibly tilt the Court to the left.

More about Prosser

Prosser was appointed to the Supreme Court by Gov. Tommy G. Thompson in 1998, and elected to a 10-year term in 2001.

Born in Chicago, Prosser was raised in Appleton, and received his bachelor's degree in political science from DePauw University in 1965 and his law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1968.

Before joining the Court, Prosser served on the Wisconsin Tax Appeals Commission where he conducted hearings and issued decisions on disputes related to Wisconsin taxation.

Prosser was appointed to the Tax Appeals Commission following an 18-year career in the Wisconsin Legislature, where he represented the Appleton area in the Assembly from 1979 through 1996. During his tenure, he served six years as Assembly Minority Leader and two years as Assembly Speaker.

For 14 years, he was a legislative member of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. In 2005, he was reappointed to the commission by Assembly Speaker John Gard and served until 2007.

Prior to his election to the Assembly, Prosser served as Outagamie County District Attorney. He also worked in Washington, D.C., first as an attorney/advisor in the Office of Criminal Justice, United States Department of Justice; then as administrative assistant to U.S. Representative Harold Froehlich, a member of the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate impeachment inquiry.

Prosser also served on the Supreme Court Planning and Policy Advisory Committee's Court Financing Subcommittee in 2002-04, the Judicial Council of Wisconsin in 2002-06, and currently serves on the Supreme Court Citation of Unpublished Opinions Committee and Rules Procedures Committee.

Prosser, according to his campaign website, also is a member of the James E. Doyle American Inns of Court, Friends of the Fox, and the James Watrous Gallery Advisory Committee.

More about Kloppenburg

Kloppenburg has been a litigator and prosecutor at the Wisconsin Department of Justice since 1989, serving under attorneys general from both parties: Don Hanaway, Jim Doyle, Peg Lautenschlager and current Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.

According to Kloppenburg's campaign website, her legal experience is "broad and deep" and includes constitutional law, appellate law, civil litigation, environmental prosecution and administrative law. She has argued numerous cases before the Wisconsin Supreme Court and in the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, and she has tried cases in circuit courts around the state.

Kloppenburg graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1988. She has an undergraduate degree from Yale (1974), also with honors, and a Masters in Public Affairs from Princeton University (1976).

During law school, she was an intern for Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and later was a law clerk for Chief Judge Barbara Crabb of the U.S. District Court.

A teacher at the UW Law School since 1990, she was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana from 1976 to 1979 and remains active in professional, civic and community life.

She is a member of the Legal Association for Women, a mentor with the Dane County Bar Association, an English as a Second Language tutor, and a member of her neighborhood association board, and has volunteered with various nonprofit groups.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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