Tag Archives: judges

Wis. Supreme Court urged to bar judges from cases involving their donors

The Wisconsin Supreme Court this week postponed an open meeting about whether to bar judges, including those on the high court, from hearing cases involving people who donated significantly to their election campaigns.

The Supreme Court, whose 5-2 majority leans conservative, was scheduled to take up a petition on March 16 from 54 retired Wisconsin judges pushing for the rule change.

But the open meeting was postponed until April 20 after Brian McGrath, a lawyer for the conservative group Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, emailed the court to say his group intends to show that the petition “should be dismissed without a further and wasteful investment of judicial and public resources” and plans to submit its arguments in writing in the next 30 days.

Jenni Dye, a research director at the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, said in a statement she’s not surprised the court accommodated the group.

“The coalition of retired judges asking for this rule change were concerned about corruption or the appearance of corruption on the court,” she said. “That the court would go along with this request from a conservative group is further proof the rules need to change to insulate the justices from influence of special interests.”

The institute’s president, Rick Esenberg, said the court is doing what it should by waiting for input from various points of view.

“What could possibly be the problem with taking the time to listen to a petition from someone with another perspective?” he said.

Esenberg said his group plans to argue that tightening the rules would inhibit free speech by steering individual supporters away from contributing to campaigns and amplifying special interest groups.

“Speech cannot happen without resources,” he said. “If we’re going to have elections, we need to be able to have a public conversation.”

The postponement came the day a national campaign finance watchdog group, the Campaign Legal Center, sent a letter to the court urging it to adopt stricter rules, arguing that Wisconsin lags behind other states in preventing judicial conflicts of interest.

The Brennan Center for Justice also sent the court a letter this week urging a review of the rules.

Currently, donors can give up to $20,000 to Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates and a court can’t force judges to recuse themselves from cases with possible conflicts of interest.

Former Milwaukee County Judge Michael Skwierawski, who helped write the petition, said he’s troubled by the influx of money to judicial campaigns.

“It puts judges in a difficult position when all that extra money is forced on campaigns,” he said, adding that even judges who act in good faith risk having the appearance of their independence tarnished.

“Someone cannot simply pay for a judge’s election and expect the public to believe the judge could be fair on a case involving that party,” he said.

The petition suggested requiring judges to recuse themselves if they have received campaign donations from any parties in the case of varying amounts, ranging from $10,000 for state Supreme Court justices to $500 for municipal judges. The proposal would include in the total any expenditures made to influence the outcome of an election, including those to third parties, though Esenberg expressed doubts about whether this would be viable. If more than four judges are recused for a case, the proposal suggests allowing an appeals court judge or retired Supreme Court justices to hear a case to ensure four judges.

Candidates currently are also free to coordinate with outside interest groups who spend money on so-called issue advocacy but stop short of endorsing specific candidates. That stems from a 2015 Wisconsin Supreme Court case centered on whether Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign illegally coordinated with outside interest groups.

Now-retired Justice David Prosser, one of three conservative judges to halt the investigation, acknowledged at the time that some groups under investigation had helped his campaign, but he refused to recuse himself, saying the spending happened years ago.

 

Election Day from coast to coast: Key races in every state

 

Much more is at stake on Election Day than the White House. State by state, district by district, neighborhood by neighborhood, candidates and campaigners are making their last pitch for Congress, state legislatures, governor’s offices, ballot questions, judgeships, city councils and lots more.

A nationwide look at important, interesting and occasionally odd matters that go before voters today:

ALABAMA

Alabama voters must decide on 14 statewide constitutional amendments affecting everything from funding for state parks and the age of public officeholders to beer. Yes, beer. The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board wants to require brewers to report the name, address, age and phone number from anyone who purchases beer at one of the state’s craft breweries for off-premises consumption.

ALASKA

Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is up for re-election, and the race has drawn not one but three foes: Democrat Ray Metcalfe, independent Margaret Stock, and Joe Miller, who upset Murkowski in the 2010 GOP primary only to then lose the general election in a historic write-in campaign. This time Miller is running as a Libertarian.

ARIZONA

Eight years after losing his bid for president, Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain is running for re-election. McCain has publicly struggled with whether to support GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, who called McCain a loser and criticized him for being captured during the Vietnam War. Marijuana is on the ballot; voters could legalize the drug for recreational use by adults. Minimum wage could rise to $12 an hour by 2020 under a separate ballot measure. Metro Phoenix Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in America, is fighting for his job after a criminal indictment stemming from his immigration patrols.

ARKANSAS

Arkansas could become the first Southern state to legalize medical marijuana, although a similar proposal lost by less than 30,000 votes a year ago, out of 1.3 million votes cast. Republicans are expected to hold all four of Arkansas’ U.S. House seats. Democrats are fielding a candidate in only one district.

CALIFORNIA

Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s retirement creates a rare open seat, and for the first time in the modern era, no Republican will be on the ballot. Thanks to California’s unusual primary system, in which the two top finishers from the June primary advance to the general election, voters will decide between two Democrats _ state Attorney General Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez. The statewide ballot has a whopping 17 propositions, the most on a single ballot since March 2000. There’s a measure to legalize recreational marijuana and one requiring porn actors to wear condoms. Voters will weigh in twice on the death penalty. One measure would repeal capital punishment while another seeks to speed up the process.

COLORADO

Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet is running for re-election against a tea party-aligned opponent, conservative Darryl Glenn, who has struggled to raise funds after national party leaders refused to endorse his candidacy. In a hotly contested House race, Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman is facing a challenge from Democratic state Sen. Morgan Carroll in suburban Denver. The chief ballot questions would allow medical aid in dying and create a universal health care system within the state.

CONNECTICUT

The five Democrats who make up the state’s U.S. House delegation face re-election, including Rosa DeLauro, the longest serving member in the group who is seeking a 14th term. Dr. William Petit, whose wife and two daughters were murdered in a 2007 home invasion, is running as a Republican for the Legislature against state Rep. Betty Boukus, an 11-term Democrat who heads the powerful House bonding subcommittee.

DELAWARE

Voters will elect a new congressional representative and a new governor, while Republicans are hoping to end years of Democratic rule in the General Assembly by regaining control of the state Senate. Democratic U.S. Rep. John Carney Jr. is making a second run for governor against Republican state Sen. Colin Bonini. Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester and Republican Hans Reigle are vying for the state’s lone U.S. House seat.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Voters in the nation’s capital will decide whether they want their city to become the 51st state. The measure, backed by Mayor Muriel Bowser, should pass easily, but that’s probably as far as it goes. Congress would need to approve any such change and Republicans are unlikely to go along with it. With registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans by 12-1 in the city, statehood would tip the balance in the U.S. Senate with two more Democrats.

FLORIDA

Florida voters will decide whether Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio gets a second term. They’ll also pick at least eight new U.S. House members after districts were redrawn to comply with the state constitution, and will cast ballots on legalizing medical marijuana. Rubio faces Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, while ex-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist hopes to revive his political career _ now as a Democrat _ in a race against Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly in a St. Petersburg-area district.

GEORGIA

Democrat Jim Barksdale and Libertarian Allen Buckley are challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who seeks a third term. Barksdale, who owns an Atlanta investment firm, gave $3.5 million toward his first political campaign, but has struggled to get momentum against the well-known Isakson. Georgia voters also will decide on a constitutional amendment allowing the state to take over low-performing schools.

HAWAII

Voters in Honolulu must make two separate choices after U.S. Rep. Mark Takai died in office: Someone to fill his seat for the remaining two months of his term, and someone to represent the district for the next two years. Voter confusion could lead to two different people winning the same seat, to serve two different terms. In heavily Democratic Hawaii, the only state Senate seat held by a Republican, Sam Slom, could flip. That would make Hawaii the first state in the nation to have a one-party legislative body since 1980.

IDAHO

Republicans will dominate at the top of the ticket, leaving an open seat on Idaho’s Supreme Court as the most competitive race. Twin Falls attorney Robyn Brody and Republican state Sen. Curt McKenzie are in a tight, nonpartisan race.

ILLINOIS

Illinois is home to one of the most closely watched U.S. Senate races in the country, with Republican incumbent Mark Kirk and Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth. Kirk, a first-term senator, is considered one of the more vulnerable Republicans, and polls have indeed shown Duckworth with a comfortable lead. Wealthy Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has spent record amounts on down-ballot races in hopes of tilting the Democrat-leaning Legislature toward the GOP so he can press his own policy agenda in second half of his term.

INDIANA

With Republican Gov. Mike Pence on the national ticket as Trump’s running mate, the governor’s office is up for grabs. And this is another state with a U.S. Senate race that will be crucial to determining party control. A former governor and U.S. senator, Democrat Evan Bayh, wants to return to the Senate and faces Republican U.S. Rep. Todd Young. Democrats are hoping to gain enough seats in the General Assembly to break the current Republican stranglehold.

IOWA

Republican Charles Grassley is seeking a seventh U.S. Senate term and trying to retain a seat his party has held since 1957. Democrats are optimistic that their candidate, Patty Judge, can break that winning streak, given her previous elections to statewide office as agriculture secretary and lieutenant governor. Two of Iowa’s four U.S. House races are expected to be especially competitive.

KANSAS

Democrats are seeking to cut into Republican majorities in both houses of the Legislature and oust more allies of term-limited GOP Gov. Sam Brownback. Conservatives and abortion opponents are seeking to remove four Kansas Supreme Court justices in hopes of giving Brownback a chance to remake the court ahead of major abortion and school funding rulings.

KENTUCKY

Voters will decide whether to send Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, who made an early run for the presidency, back to Washington for a second term. His Democratic opponent is Lexington Mayor Jim Gray. Voters also will determine whether the only legislative chamber in the South still controlled by Democrats remains so. Republicans need to pick up four seats to win a majority in the Kentucky House for the first time since 1920.

LOUISIANA

Two dozen _ that’s right, two dozen _ candidates are vying for an open seat in the U.S. Senate after incumbent David Vitter decided not to seek re-election. One of them is white supremacist David Duke, who is not among the top-tier candidates in polling. Because no candidate is likely to get the 50-percent-plus-one majority needed to win outright, the top vote-getters will head to a Dec. 10 runoff that could end up determining which party gains control of the U.S. Senate for the next two years.

MAINE

Mainers will decide whether to make marijuana legal for everyone over age 21. Maine is one of nine states considering ballot questions on pot legalization for recreational or medicinal use. Another initiative would require background checks before the sale or transfer of firearms between people who aren’t licensed dealers. And one would boost the hourly minimum wage from $7.50 to $12 by 2020.

MARYLAND

Voters will pick a replacement for the popular Barbara Mikulski, who is retiring after 30 years in the U.S. Senate. U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a seven-term Democrat, is running against Kathy Szeliga, minority whip in the state House of Delegates. She has sought to portray Van Hollen as an insider of dysfunctional Washington. Baltimore will choose a new mayor.

MASSACHUSETTS

Massachusetts voters will also vote on marijuana legalization, as well as a proposed expansion of charter schools. There are a handful of congressional contests, with Democratic U.S. Reps. Richard Neal, Niki Tsongas, Joe Kennedy, Stephen Lynch and William Keating all facing challengers.

MICHIGAN

It’s the Democrats’ last shot to disrupt the GOP’s agenda or Republicans will lead the Legislature all eight years of GOP Gov. Rick Snyder’s tenure. At least a dozen GOP-held House districts _ half with incumbents, half open due to term limits _ will determine which party secures the minimum 56 seats needed. Democrats have targeted two GOP-held U.S. House districts, while two spots on the Michigan Supreme Court represent the most significant statewide races.

MINNESOTA

A trio of competitive congressional races takes top billing in Minnesota. Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan will try to fend off a rematch challenge from Republican Stewart Mills to hang on to a northeastern Minnesota district that has been a liberal stronghold for decades. The result has been one of the most expensive House elections in the country. Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen will be defending his suburban Minneapolis seat, while the two parties jostle over another suburban district that opened with a top Republican’s retirement.

All 201 state House and Senate seats are on the ballot in an election to determine legislative majorities. Voters will also decide whether to hand off legislators’ power to set their own pay to an independent council.

MISSISSIPPI

All four of Mississippi’s U.S. House members _ three Republicans and one Democrat _ are up for re-election. All are likely to prevail. Four of the nine state Supreme Court seats will also be filled, as will four of 10 seats on the state Court of Appeals.

MISSOURI

Missouri voters will decide whether to send U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt to a second term, or choose Democratic challenger Jason Kander instead. It’s a race that will help decide party control of the Senate, and polls have indicated a toss-up for months. Meanwhile, Missouri’s contentious campaign for governor has been the nation’s most expensive. Republican newcomer Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL, has campaigned largely on his military record, while Attorney General Chris Koster has endorsements from the Missouri Farm Bureau and National Rifle Association, which typically support Republicans.

MONTANA

Popular Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is up for a second term in the conservative-leaning state against software entrepreneur Greg Gianforte, who spent more than $5.6 million of his own money on his campaign. Incumbent U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke is seeking to hold off a determined challenge from Democrat Denise Juneau to maintain a two-decade Republican lock on Montana’s sole House seat. Pot is also on the ballot, with a measure that would loosen many of the restrictions imposed on the state’s medical marijuana program with a 2011 state law that limited marijuana providers to three patients each.

NEBRASKA

Nebraska voters have the opportunity to reinstate the death penalty and reverse last year’s decision by the Legislature. The citizen-led ballot measure has triggered millions in campaign spending. In one of the country’s most competitive congressional races, Republicans are looking to defeat first-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford, who promotes himself as a champion of bipartisanship. His opponent, Don Bacon, is a retired Air Force brigadier general who is running as a Washington outsider.

NEVADA

Nevada is home to one of the most expensive U.S. Senate races in the country, featuring lots of TV ads about the seat being vacated by Democratic leader Harry Reid. The race is between U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, a Republican, and Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, a former Nevada attorney general trying to become the first Latina U.S. senator. Recreational marijuana is also on the ballot, raising the possibility of pot shops springing up near the Las Vegas Strip.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

New Hampshire is a presidential swing state, and home to a tight U.S. Senate contest between Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte and Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan. It’s one of a half-dozen races that could help determine which party controls the Senate. Two members of the U.S. House, Republican Chris Sununu and Democrat Colin Van Ostern, are vying to replace Hassan as governor.

NEW JERSEY

One of the nastiest U.S. House races in the country this year has pitted a Republican incumbent, Rep. Scott Garrett, against Democrat Josh Gottheimer. In a district that stretches from wealthy New York City suburbs to the state’s rural northwestern corner, the two candidates have called each other liars and engaged in a war of words and accusations to rival the presidential candidates. New Jersey voters will also decide on a proposed expansion of casino gambling.

NEW MEXICO

There’s little suspense at the top of the ticket, with all three U.S. House incumbents expected to be re-elected, so Republicans are focused on defending their narrow majority in the state House. The party took over in 2014, ending 60 years of Democratic control. The criminal conviction and resignation of former Secretary of State Dianna Duran in 2015, for embezzlement and money laundering related to her gambling addiction, has opened that office. The race is between Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver and Republican state lawmaker Nora Espinoza.

NEW YORK

Voters will decide whether the Republican Party maintains control of the state Senate or Democrats secure total control of state government. The outcome is likely to come down to a handful of competitive races on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley.

NORTH CAROLINA

As a focal point in battles over transgender rights and voter ID laws, North Carolina may be the state where social and ideological divisions are the most defining this election year. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is in a tight race against Democrat Roy Cooper, the state’s attorney general. Former state Rep. Deborah Ross is presenting a strong challenge to incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr in one of the most closely watched Senate races.

NORTH DAKOTA

As this state’s energy- and agriculture-dependent economy falters, voters will choose a new governor to lead it through increasingly troubled financial times. But with Republican Doug Burgum a heavy favorite in this reliably red state, five ballot measures may be of most interest. Among the most-watched will be a measure that would make it legal to possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana for medical purposes.

OHIO

Early on, former Gov. Ted Strickland looked like one of the Democrats’ best bets to flip a U.S. Senate seat in his party’s favor. He’s running again Republican incumbent Sen. Rob Portman. Then outside groups spent more than $50 million to beat Strickland, who also lost key union endorsements and was up against a formidable voter outreach and turnout effort by Portman. Now the seat looks pretty safe for the GOP.

OKLAHOMA

Oklahoma voters will be watching a ballot issue that targets the state’s chronically low teacher salaries and one that would enshrine the death penalty in the state constitution, even as executions remain on hold after mistakes in two recent lethal injections.

OREGON

A Republican is threatening to win statewide office for the first time in many years, in a battle for secretary of state that is the hottest in Oregon. Democrat Brad Avakian is running ads saying his GOP rival is “extreme like Trump.” Republican Dennis Richardson has racked up endorsements from numerous newspapers and even from two prominent members of Avakian’s own party.

PENNSYLVANIA

Since 1948, no Democrat has won the White House without winning Pennsylvania. There’s also a hot U.S. Senate race between Democratic challenger Katie McGinty and Republican incumbent Pat Toomey, who is among the most vulnerable Republicans as the GOP struggles to retain its majority. Spending on that campaign is on track to hit $140 million.

RHODE ISLAND

Voters in Rhode Island, a state that has seen its share of political corruption, will decide whether to expand the authority of the state’s ethics commission. They’ll also be asked whether to allow a new casino.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott , the South’s first black senator since Reconstruction, is running for his first full term. He was appointed to the seat in 2013 following the resignation of Sen. Jim DeMint, then won election to the final two years of that term. Democrat Thomas Dixon, a community activist and pastor, is challenging him. Then there’s Democrat Dimitri Cherny, whose platform includes colonizing the moon and Mars in case the Earth becomes uninhabitable. He’s challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, the ex-governor whom voters sent back to Congress in 2013.

SOUTH DAKOTA

The main suspense is likely to be the fate of 10 ballot questions on topics ranging from public campaign funding to payday loan interest rates.

TENNESSEE

Democrats are hoping to chip away at vast Republican majorities in the state Legislature by focusing on urban areas, while the GOP is seeking to stamp out the last vestiges of Democratic support in rural parts of the state.

TEXAS

Texas’ only competitive congressional race looks to be the rematch between Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd and former Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego in a district that sprawls from San Antonio to suburban El Paso, including 800-plus miles of U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Hurd unseated Gallego in 2014. The entire Texas House also is up for election, along with 16 of the state Senate’s 31 seats. Regardless of the outcomes, both chambers will remain Republican-controlled.

UTAH

The independent campaign of Evan McMullin has made Utah suddenly relevant in presidential politics. If the former CIA operative, a Mormon, can win the state and claim its six electoral votes, it could upend Donald Trump’s chances for the White House end five decades of reliably voting for the Republican nominee.

VERMONT

This state, considered among the most liberal in the country, may well elect a Republican governor. That race pits Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, against former state Transportation Secretary Sue Minter, a Democrat.

VIRGINIA

Barbara Comstock, a first term GOP congresswoman, is trying to fend off a serious challenge from Democrat LuAnn Bennett. Trump’s unpopularity in northern Virginia has loomed large in the race, with Bennett trying to tie Comstock to the presidential nominee. In the crowded race for mayor of Richmond, the front-runner is Joe Morrissey, a former state lawmaker who went to jail for having sex with his then-17-year-old receptionist, who is now his wife

WEST VIRGINIA

Republicans are hoping to ride on the coattails of an expected strong showing for Trump, who has promised to put coal miners back to work. In the governor’s race, Democrat Jim Justice, a billionaire coal and agriculture magnate, faces Bill Cole, the state Senate president. In the state auditor’s race, Democrat Mary Ann Claytor is vying to become the first African-American statewide officeholder in West Virginia history.

WASHINGTON

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee is seeking a second term. He faces Republican Bill Bryant, a former Seattle port commissioner who says Inslee has mismanaged the state’s mental health system and failed to fund K-12 education as mandated by the state Supreme Court. Six initiatives are on the statewide ballot, including raising the minimum wage to $13.50 an hour by 2020 and imposing a carbon emission tax on certain fossil fuels.

WISCONSIN

It’s 2010 all over again in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race. This time, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is the incumbent and former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold is the challenger. Johnson argues that having been fired once by voters, Feingold does not deserve to be sent back. But Feingold says Johnson has not led on the issues Wisconsin voters care about and should not be given a second term.

WYOMING

Republican Liz Cheney is heavily favored to win Wyoming’s only seat in the U.S. House, which was formerly held by her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney. Her opponent, Democrat Ryan Greene, works for an oilfield services company. Wyoming voters also will decide whether to allow the state to invest potentially billions more in the stock market, changing a state law that limits investments.

Half on Walker’s list for Wisconsin Supreme Court owe him

More than half of the applicants vying to replace retiring Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser already owe their jobs to Gov. Scott Walker — and now he could tap one of them for the state’s highest court.

Walker released the names of 10 of the 11 applicants May 20, including attorney Andrew Brown of River Falls; Madison attorney Claude Covelli; state appellate judges Mark Gundrum, Brian Hagedorn and Thomas Hruz; Jefferson County Circuit Judge Randy Koschnick, who is the father of Walker’s chief staff attorney; Marinette County Circuit Judge James Morrison; Wisconsin Public Service Commission Chairwoman Ellen Nowak; Milwaukee attorney Paul Scoptur; and Madison attorney Jim Troupis.

Walker’s office says an 11th applicant requested confidentiality. Wisconsin law says the state must withhold an applicant’s identity if the person requests confidentiality in writing, unless they become a final candidate.

Walker expects to appoint a replacement by the time Prosser retires on July 31. It will be the Republican governor’s second appointment to the state’s highest court. He appointed Justice Rebecca Bradley in October after Justice Patrick Crooks died in his chambers. Walker had appointed Bradley to judgeships twice previously, and she won re-election in April.

The governor similarly could tap a previous appointee this time around — he’s appointed at least six of the applicants to their positions.

Gundrum was elected to the state Assembly as a Republican in 1998, serving alongside Walker. Gundrum was elected to the Waukesha County Circuit Court in 2010, and Walker appointed him to the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Waukesha in 2011.

Hagedorn was Walker’s chief legal counsel until Walker appointed him to the 2nd District Court of Appeals in 2015. He previously worked in the state Department of Justice, as a Milwaukee attorney and as clerk to Justice Michael Gableman.

Walker appointed Hruz to the 3rd District Court of Appeals in 2014. Hruz, previously a Milwaukee attorney, also clerked for Prosser.

As for Morrison and Troupis, Walker appointed both to circuit judgeships — Morrison in 2012 and Troupis in 2015. Both were in private practice prior to their appointments. Troupis’ appointment was slated to continue until August, but he stepped down in May.

Walker also appointed Nowak to chair the Public Service Commission. She was legal counsel and chief of staff for the Assembly speaker and was deputy director of School Choice Wisconsin, an organization advocating charter and voucher schools.

Several of the applicants have bid for seats on the Wisconsin Supreme Court before.

Troupis and Covelli, a practicing attorney in Wisconsin for 43 years who specializes in insurance law, both lost out to Bradley for Crooks’ seat. Covelli then launched a brief campaign to compete against Bradley, ending it two months later.

Koschnick ran for the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2009, unsuccessfully challenging Justice Shirley Abrahamson. He’s been Jefferson County Circuit Court judge since 1999 and was previously a public defender for the county. His daughter, Katie Ignatowski, is Walker’s chief legal counsel.

Ignatowski and Walker’s deputy legal counsel both have recused themselves from the appointment process, according to Walker’s office. Walker’s chief of staff, Rich Zipperer, and former deputy legal counsel Andrew Hitt will serve in their place.

Scoptur works as an injury attorney in Wauwatosa and as an adjunct law professor at Marquette University. Brown lives in River Falls but works at a firm in Minnesota, focusing on construction disputes.

Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this report.

 

In 2016 campaigns, both parties want reform of justice system

On the campaign trail, among candidates of both parties, the idea of locking up drug criminals for life is a lot less popular than it was a generation ago.

The 2016 presidential race has accelerated an evolution away from the traditional tough-on-crime candidate. A Republican Party that’s long taken a law-and-order stance finds itself desperate to improve its standing among minority voters, and Democratic candidates are also being drawn into national conversations on policing, drug crimes and prison costs.

With criminal justice issues intruding into election season, the “Just Say No” message of the Reagan administration and the “three strikes” sentencing law developed a decade later under President Bill Clinton have given way to concerns over bloated prison costs, the racial inequities of harsh drug punishments and how police interact with their communities.

But even among those in both parties who support changing the criminal justice system, there’s no consensus on how to do it and candidates are scrambling to differentiate themselves on what law and order means.

“You don’t have everyone saying they’re tough on crime,” said Inimai Chettiar of the Brennan Center for Justice in New York, which advocates reducing prison populations. “Instead, you have people offering different policy solutions.”

The Paris attacks have at least temporarily thrust national security to the forefront of the presidential race, but criminal justice issues have been periodically popping up, particularly among Democrats, in a year of tumult in U.S. cities. In the Republican field, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has been out front in seeking to “break the cycle of incarceration for non-violent ex-offenders.”

The push to rethink sentences for drug offenders is coinciding with the Black Lives Matter movement and its debate about police treatment of minorities, a heroin crisis that’s brought renewed attention to addiction and a homicide spike in some big cities. Sometimes that mix of issues defies consistency.

Republican Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor and a former federal prosecutor, has preached treatment rather than prison for drug addicts and spoken sympathetically of a law school friend who died after getting hooked on painkillers. But when it comes to discussing policing, he accuses Democrats in Washington of “allowing lawlessness to reign” and tells law enforcement “I’ll have your back,” suggesting that the Obama administration doesn’t.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a fellow Republican, criticizes harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders. But last month he voted against legislation that would have made nonviolent drug offenders eligible for shorter prison sentences, saying he was concerned it could also benefit violent felons.

And while Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has endorsed a review of the criminal code and decried “selective enforcement” of the law, he wrote in an essay for a Brennan Center book this year that drug laws had helped restore “law and order to America’s cities” and that shorter drug-crime sentences should be approached with caution.

Support for more lenient sentencing from Republican members of Congress and wealthy conservative backers such as the Koch brothers has made it easier for budget-minded presidential candidates to support sentencing policy changes. It’s not clear, though, how much benefit candidates gain from pressing the issue with average voters, said Fergus Cullen, former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party.

Some leading candidates such as Donald Trump hardly mention the issue on the campaign trail, and Ben Carson, the sole Republican participant in a recent candidate forum on criminal justice, said he was still waiting to see evidence of racial bias by police.

“The Republican primary voters are not a soft-hearted bunch when it comes to criminal justice issues, and I don’t think there are a lot of voters to be had,” Cullen said.

Democratic candidates are more unified in their embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement and of overall change to the criminal justice system.

After Baltimore’s riots in April, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic front-runner whose husband promoted a more conventional tough-on-crime stance, called the criminal justice system “out of balance” and urged an end to “mass incarceration.” More recently, she proposed lifting restrictions on getting marijuana for medical studies and said it should be reclassified by the government to allow federally sponsored research into its effects.

Her rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, has called for accountability for police officers who “kill people who are unarmed” and suggested moving forward with marijuana legalization.

It’s all a big change from a generation or two ago.

“The threat of someone waging a ‘tough on crime’ campaign as their calling card is, I think, very much diminished from what we might have seen 20 years ago,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, which advocates sentencing policy changes.

The “reform movement” has strong enough support, Mauer said, that it would be “difficult for a candidate to try to make hay out of it.”

It’s not clear how rising homicide rates in some cities will affect efforts to remake the criminal justice system, especially since there’s no consensus about what’s caused the trend or whether it will last. FBI Director James Comey said recently that if the trend were to continue, “we will be back to talking about how law enforcement needs to help rescue black neighborhoods from the grip of violence.”

“All lives matter too much for us to let that happen,” he said.

It also remains to be seen how campaign-trail rhetoric will translate into policy or how committed a future president will be in pushing for sentencing changes. But issues of criminal justice that in many ways were once considered local concerns are, at least for now, in play on the national level.

Supreme Court faced with tough major decisions

One of the nation’s more liberal nonprofits and one of the most conservative U.S. think tanks may not agree on the best outcomes of the new Supreme Court term, but there’s concurrence on the most significant cases before the justices.

There also seems to be all-around agreement that progressives may not win the type of landmark victories achieved in the 2014–15 term, most notably the high court’s ruling in late June that paved the way for marriage equality across the country. Conservative wins are far more common from the Roberts court.

The court began its new term on Oct. 5, with 34 cases already on the docket and many more expected. The justices will hear arguments in 10 cases this month and arguments in another 10 in November.

Days before the term opened, the liberal People for the American Way issued its “term preview” and the conservative Heritage Foundation issued its “overview.” Both groups said the most significant cases to be heard this fall will deal with affirmative action, organized labor and redistricting. The court also is likely to take up cases dealing with religious liberty, abortion rights and affordable health care.

PFAW, in its preview, cautioned that the justices “have chosen to hear a number of cases that risk continuing the aggressive rightward march that has characterized the past decade. The 2015–16 term may be yet another one where the American people enjoy less liberty, less equality, less power and less control over our own democracy on the last day of the term than we had on the first.”

The Heritage Foundation did not issue such a warning.

A look at new term …

To be argued:

• Redistricting. Perhaps the most prominent case currently before the court is Evenwel v. Abbott from Texas. The justices will decide whether states can or must exclude those not eligible to vote or not registered to vote from population counts in redistricting.

The case deals with equal representation in elected bodies, the constitutional guarantee of “one person, one vote.” The plaintiffs, who live in rural Texas, maintain that the Constitution requires each vote to be equal, so districts should have equal numbers of eligible voters not equal populations. Current practice is to count everyone in the district.

Another case, Harris v. Arizona Independent Commission, involves a state redistricting plan adopted by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, which was created as a result of a ballot initiative aimed at removing partisanship from the mapping process.

The plaintiffs argue that the commission, for partisan reasons, created a map that carved out districts for both parties but to the disadvantage of Republicans.

• Affirmative action. Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. The court will hear this case for a second time. The plaintiff’s first equal protection challenge to the use of race in undergrad admissions at UT was heard in 2013. Then, the court said schools must prove their use of race in admissions decisions is narrowly tailored to further compelling government interests and remanded the case to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Heritage says the justices will decide whether UT’s diversity rationale for enrolling more minority students from majority-white high schools justifies using race in admissions.

• Union representation. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. In this case, the plaintiffs argue that because they are not union members, they should not pay fair share fees toward the public employee union’s costs in representing members and non-members alike. The plaintiffs’ claim is that public sector collective bargaining is like lobbying and their fair share fees support political activity, violating their First Amendment rights.

PFAW says, “The decision in this case will have an enormous impact on working people’s ability to join together and effectively negotiate for fair wages and benefits.”

Possible arguments:

• Abortion rights. Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole out of Texas. The case is a challenge to Texas’ requirements that licensed abortion facilities meet the same building requirements as an ambulatory surgical center and that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.

Doctors and choice advocates maintain that these types of regulations — adopted in Wisconsin under Gov. Scott Walker — are medically unnecessary and infringe on women’s ability to exercise their constitutional rights.

Another case, Currier v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, challenges a court ruling against a Mississippi admitting-privileges law.

Conservatives would like the court to hear Currier and progressives would like the court to hear the Texas case.

• Religious liberty. Multiple petitioners want the court to address the accommodation for religious nonprofits to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage requirement. The faith-based groups argue that even the accommodation violates religious liberty under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Did judge fail to report outside income? | Money & Politics

Each year more than 2,000 state public officials, from the governor to members of the Chiropractic Examining Board, must file annual statements of economic Interests. (Forms for 2014 are due April 30.) These list employers, other sources of income, creditors and more. This disclosure allows the media and public to check for possible conflicts of interest.

Paul Adamski, a state prison inmate, thinks he’s found one such conflict — involving Outagamie County Circuit Court Judge Mark McGinnis. But he didn’t find it on the judge’s disclosure forms.

In 2009 McGinnis presided over a jury trial in which Adamski, 44, was convicted of multiple charges including the repeated sexual assault of a child and incest. McGinnis sentenced him to 45 years in prison, followed by 25 years of extended supervision.

Adamski reasserts his not-guilty plea but says his main issue is accountability. McGinnis’ statements of economic interests do not appear to list police training session income from the city of Appleton, for years in which other records show he was receiving substantial sums. Appleton police were involved in the case against Adamski.

McGinnis, in a telephone interview and email exchange, said he believed his income from the city of Appleton was disclosed on the forms, but did not explain where this information appears. “I believe I reported it accurately and I’ll take it up with the appropriate authority at the appropriate time,” he said. “You can draw whatever conclusions you want based on the limited information and knowledge you have.”

Violations of the state law regarding Statements of Economic Interests can bring civil and criminal penalties. In 2001, the state Ethics Board imposed a $3,000 forfeiture on former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson for failing to report a stock holding. In 2003, it sought criminal charges against Democratic state Sen. Gary George for omitting some income sources. No such charges were filed, but George was later convicted of federal crimes.

In other cases, said Jonathan Becker, ethics division administrator of the state Government Accountability Board (which replaced the Ethics Board), the agency has been satisfied with the filing of corrected forms.

From 2007 through 2011, records show, Appleton paid McGinnis $18,450 for 41 half-day “Legal Update” sessions. The city’s finance director, Tony Saucerman, said the payments were made directly to McGinnis.

“The fact that a judge instructed officers and then ruled on those officers’ performance is an obvious conflict of interest” that his attorneys did not know about, Adamski said. An explanatory comment in the state Code of Judicial Ethics says parties should be told of any potential grounds for recusal, “even if the judge believes there is no real basis for recusal.”

McGinnis’ Statements of Economic Interests do list outside income for training sessions at Fox Valley Technical College and the federal Amber Alert program run through FVTC. The college says these payments totaled more than $150,000 for the six-year period between 2009 and 2014.

In 2008, controversy arose over a $2.7 million, 15-year lease McGinnis signed with the state Department of Corrections for a building he owned. A DOC lawyer called this “problematic,” since DOC employees might appear in McGinnis’ court, but the state Judicial Commission okayed the deal.

Adamski sued McGinnis and others in federal court, alleging conspiracy. On March 30, a federal judge dismissed the case as frivolous, saying McGinnis’ alleged failure to report money from Appleton for teaching legal updates “caused no harm” to Adamski.

Adamski is also seeking post-conviction relief in state court, before Judge McGinnis. The case has stalled because Adamski says he can’t afford a $147 bill for records he is seeking from McGinnis under the open records law. This includes $125 for two hours of McGinnis’ time, spent locating the records.

McGinnis declined comment on this case, saying it would be unethical for him to do so.

Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org). The Center produces the project in partnership with MapLight. The Center collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.



Alabama Supreme Court says anti-gay ruling stands until U.S. Supreme Court rules

The Alabama Supreme Court has made itself an outlier in the judicial march legalizing same-sex marriages in the United States, drawing rebukes from gay rights advocates and evoking comparisons to Alabama’s defiance of federal authorities during the civil rights movement.

The court set up a showdown with a Mobile, Alabama, federal judge this week when it ordered officials in the state to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses pending a U.S. Supreme Court decision later this year on whether gays and lesbians have a fundamental right to marry.

The Alabama ruling contradicts U.S. District Judge Callie “Ginny” Granade, who declared in January that Alabama’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution.

“Even as nationwide marriage equality is on the horizon, the Alabama Supreme Court is determined to be on the wrong side of history,” said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Alabama wasn’t the first state where a federal trial or appeals court declared same-sex marriages legal, but the state justices made Alabama the only state to push back in advance of the U.S. Supreme Court settling the matter.

The justices’ decision had quick results: By Wednesday afternoon, gay rights advocates said they could not find one of Alabama’s 67 counties where a same-sex couple could get a marriage license. Before the ruling, 48 counties had issued licenses in compliance with Granade’s earlier declarations.

The Alabama justices don’t dispute that the nation’s highest court will have the final say. But absent that ruling, the justices reasoned, they remain the ultimate authority on applying the U.S. Constitution to a state law. “State courts may interpret the U.S. Constitution independently from, and even contrary to, federal courts,” they wrote in a decision that described “traditional” marriage as “the fundamental unit of society.”

Minter, the attorney who represented gay couples who initially challenged Alabama’s ban, said the state justices showed “callous disregard” for their rights.

Dean Lanton said he and his partner, Randy Wells, had planned to wed in Birmingham on Aug. 12, the anniversary of their first date, but now might have to get married out of state because of the decision.

“It was a punch in the gut. It was out of the blue,” said Lanton, 54. “It’s just Alabama politics, deja vu from the 1960s.”

University of Alabama law professor Ronald Krotoszynski said the Alabama justices are technically correct in asserting their authority in the case. The U.S. Constitution actually doesn’t say whether state courts must adhere to federal court rulings. It simply created U.S. Supreme Court and authorized Congress to create other federal courts as necessary.

But Krotoszynski said the particular circumstances still make the Alabama action surprising, particularly given that the 11th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Atlanta and the U.S. Supreme Court itself declined Alabama’s earlier requests to delay Granade’s order until after the high court rules this year.

Many legal observers have interpreted those refusals as the court telegraphing its intention to rule in favor of same-sex marriage advocates.

“Does the (Alabama) court have the power to do this? Yes,” the professor said. “Was it wise for the court to exercise its power this way? I’d say no. … This is just not a standard kind of move in the inter-relationship between state and federal courts.”

Same-sex couples will likely appeal up to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary to block the latest state supreme court ruling, said Ben Cooper, chairman of Equality Alabama. “It’s important to understand that this is not nearly the end of this,” he said.

Montgomery County Probate Judge Steven Reed, a Democrat who was among the first to comply with Granade’s order, said he would likely join an appeal.

John Enslen, Reed’s colleague in neighboring Elmore County, however, praised the Alabama justices. He wrote on his Facebook page that he is “saddened for my nation that the word `marriage’ has been hijacked by couples who cannot procreate.”

Then there are the county officials who aren’t advocating a position – they’re just tired of the legal roller coaster.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Probate Judge Leon Archer in rural Tallapoosa County. “I had done made up my mind we were going to issue the licenses and I thought that was it. And I think that is going to be the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in June.”

Alabama judges in most counties side with federal courts over anti-gay chief justice

Alabama’s stand against gay marriage crumbled as judges in most counties have sided with federal courts rather than their own chief justice, a Republican who once called homosexuality an inherent evil.

Many counties in the Bible Belt state began issuing the licenses to same-sex couples after the latest strongly worded order from U.S. District Judge Callie Granade. She said on Feb. 12 that a judge could no longer deny marriage licenses to gays and lesbians, reiterating her ruling striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

“These numbers represent a seismic shift in favor of equality and justice. Resistance to happy, loving and committed same-sex couples getting married is quickly crumbling throughout the state,” said Fred Sainz, a top spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, which has been lobbying to expand gay rights nationwide.

Granade’s ruling enabling gays to get licenses went into effect last week after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene. But even then, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore said county judges were not bound by her decision.

“It’s my duty to speak up when I see the jurisdiction of our courts being intruded by unlawful federal authority,” Moore insisted in an interview with The Associated Press later Monday.

About 20 of Alabama’s 67 counties allowed gays and lesbians to wed on Feb. 9. By Feb. 12 that number had jumped to at least 47, the Human Rights Campaign said. Other counties said they would revisit the decision this week.

Granade’s ruling made Alabama the 37th state where gays and lesbians can legally wed. It also continued her family legacy of bringing sweeping change to a place where many people didn’t yet welcome it.

Her grandfather was Richard Rives, a federal appellate judge whose rulings helped desegregate the South despite resistance to the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

“Judge Rives, my grandfather, really is my personal hero,” Granade said during her 2001 Senate confirmation hearing. She denied then that “judicial activism” describes what her grandfather did — or what she might do.

“The issues on which he more or less broke with precedent were ones which really flew in the face of the Constitution,” she said. “I think a judge will always be correct if the decisions that he or she makes are consistent with the plain language of the Constitution.”

While many Republican politicians in Alabama criticized her ruling last month and tried to link her to Obama administration policies, Granade was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush.

Granade could have stayed her decision pending a final U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Instead, she rejected Alabama’s argument that keeping gays and lesbians from marrying benefits the state’s children. And after Moore urged judges this week to ignore her ruling, she reiterated that they are bound by the U.S. Constitution to treat all couples equally.

Lee County’s probate judge, Bill English, said Friday that Granade’s order “makes it clear” he had to open his courthouse doors.

Moore’s stand against federal authority surprised no one in Alabama, where the 68-year-old jurist who twice ran for governor burnished his conservative image a decade ago with a losing fight to keep his Ten Commandments statue inside the Alabama Judicial Building.

While Moore again appeared on the losing side Friday, a longtime supporter said the 81 percent of Alabama voters who chose to ban gay marriage in 2006 would appreciate his stand.

“I think this lady judge is scaring the daylights out of these people,” Orange Beach businessman Dean Young said. “The people are very thankful that Judge Moore is standing up.”

Florida attorney general says state wants to defer to Supreme Court on marriage

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has filed two motions at the state appeals court level asking for a freeze on reviews of the state constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage.

Bondi, a Republican seeking re-election in November, wants the marriage issue to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court and, until then, she wants an end to the judicial reviews in Florida.

Judges in four counties in Florida have ruled that the anti-gay ban approved by voters in 2008 in the form of a constitutional amendment is not constitutional.

Bondi has formally appealed in one case and was expected to appeal the other rulings.

Now she says the state wants to defer to the U.S. Supreme Court and that further considerations at the state level waste resources. Utah and Oklahoma have asked the nation’s highest court to review decisions overturning constitutional amendments in those states. A Virginia equality case also is expected to be taken to the Supreme Court.

Nadine Smith of Equality Florida called Bondi’s move a “desperate stall tactic” and said in a statement that “delaying may be an election strategy for her but it is a hardship for our families who have waited far too long.”

U.S. appeals court rules for marriage equality in Oklahoma case

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit on July 18 upheld the decision from U.S. District Judge Terence Kern that Oklahoma’s constitutional amendment barring marriage for same-sex couples violates the U.S. Constitution.

“Today’s decision means that my husband and I can travel ‘home’ and know that our family will be treated with the same fairness and dignity as any other married couple,” said Don Howerton a board member of Marriage Equality USA as he cheered the ruling. “Oklahoma is a big part of who I am — I was born and raised there, went to the University of Oklahoma, and have many friends and family there.” 

The 2-1 decision from the panel was written by Judge Carlos Lucero, who was appointed by President George W. Bush. The judges ruled, “State bans on the licensing of same-sex marriage significantly burden the fundamental right to marry.”

Earlier this summer, the same panel of judges ruled for marriage equality in a case from Utah, Kitchen v. Herbert, which is on track to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Oklahoma can either request a review before the full bench of the Tenth Circuit, it can appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court or it can follow the ruling.

The Oklahoma case involves two couples — Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin and Gay Phillips and Susan Barton — who in November 2004 sued the state for enforcing an amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution that prohibits the state from performing or recognizing marriages between same-sex couples. The suit also initially challenged the federal Defense of Marriage Act but the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key sections of that law last summer.

The federal district court ruled in favor of the couples in mid-January. Soon after that, the state appealed.

The plaintiffs in Bishop v. Smith are represented by attorneys from Holladay & Chilton PLLC, Jennings Cook & Teague PC, Studebaker & Worley PLLC, and Phillip Craig Bailey.

Responding to the news, Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign, said, “For years, the plaintiffs in this case and their attorneys have argued on behalf of equality and justice in the court room. Today’s victory brings us ever closer to the day when all committed and loving gay and lesbian couples have the right to marry the person they love, regardless of what state they call home.”

He added, “There’s no question that the U.S. Supreme Court must take up the issue to decide once and for all whether or not states can continue to treat committed and loving gay and lesbian couples as second class citizens.”

There are more than 70 court cases challenging marriage bans across the country. Cases from 11 states are currently pending before five federal appeals court. Since the Supreme Court’s historic marriage rulings last year, there have been 17 consecutive federal court decisions that bans on marriage equality are unconstitutional.

Cases pending before federal appeals courts:

• Bostic v. Schaefer, Virginia [Arguments at the Fourth Circuit heard May 13]

• DeLeon v. Perry, Texas [Argument date at the Fifth Circuit not set]

• Tanco v. Haslam, Tennessee [Arguments at the Sixth Circuit set for Aug. 6]

• Bourke vs. Beshear, Kentucky [Arguments at the Sixth Circuit set for Aug. 6]

• Obergefell v. Kasich, Ohio [Arguments at the Sixth Circuit set for Aug. 6]

• Henry v. Himes, Ohio [Arguments at the Sixth Circuit set for Aug. 6]

• DeBoer v. Snyder, Michigan [Arguments at the Sixth Circuit set for Aug. 6]

• Wolf v. Walker, Wisconsin [Arguments at the Seventh Circuit set for Aug. 13]

• Baskin v. Bogan, Indiana [Arguments at the Seventh Circuit set for Aug. 13]

• Sevcik v. Sandoval, Nevada [Argument at the Ninth Circuit set for Sept. 8

• Latta v. Otter, Idaho [Argument at the Ninth Circuit set for Sept. 8]

• Jackson v. Abercrombie, Hawaii [Argument at the Ninth Circuit set for Sept. 8]

Cases petitioned to the U.S. Supreme Court:

• Kitchen v. Herbert, Utah [Tenth Circuit struck down marriage ban June 25]