Next Tuesday, April 4th, citizens of Wisconsin should participate in the nonpartisan Spring Election where the most important choice is for a new Justice for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. There will be three ballot questions and numerous local races, but the one with the most impact on the future of the State of Wisconsin will be the Supreme Court contest.
There will be two candidates on the ballot and these are the two that received the most votes in the February nonpartisan primary. This has been reported as the most expensive state Supreme Court election in the history of the United States. There have been millions of dollars poured into this election from out of state. You have undoubtedly seen (or heard) the advertisements the past several weeks. Ignore the advertisements and consider some basic facts.
First, the qualifications for Supreme Court Justice are the same as the qualifications for Appeals Court Judge and Circuit Court Judge. Qualifications are found in Article VII, Section 24, of the Constitution of the State of Wisconsin. Requirements are being an attorney licensed to practice law in Wisconsin for a minimum of five years immediately prior to election or appointment. Both candidates appear to meet this minimal qualification.
Next, to understand the position these candidates are seeking, we need a short course in the Wisconsin judicial system.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court is the highest court, has final authority on all Wisconsin Constitutional matters, and has regulatory and administrative authority over the practice of law in Wisconsin. There are seven justices. They do not take testimony but instead rely on written briefs and oral arguments. Normally, all seven justices will consider a case.
The Wisconsin Court of Appeals has four districts with a total of 16 judges. This court has appellate jurisdiction with a primary function to correct errors that happen in tne circuit court. Normally a three judge panel will sit on a case. They do not take testimony but instead rely on court records, written briefs, and oral arguments only if the judges decide they are needed.
The Circuit Court –often referred to as the County Court—is the trial court of general jurisdiction. There are 69 circuit courts in Wisconsin; one for each county except in three case two counties share a circuit. Most circuits have multiple judges based on case load; each judge working alone in a branch. Jury trials are only held in Circuit Courts.
Clarification is probably needed considering the terms “judge” and “justice”. A judge by definition forms an opinion after thorough and careful weighing of the evidence. And, if it is a jury trial the jury forms the opinion while the judge manages or controls the court room activities. Justice, on the other hand, is the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims. Justice is a principal that like cases should be treated alike. Justice assures the word of law and procedures are followed. Justice requires a lot of reading, writing, and research. Neither role allows the imposition of personal likes or dislikes.
Justice Daniel Kelly is the clear choice for Justice of the Supreme Court in the April 4th election. With four years on the Supreme Court he has experience as a justice. He has also been a law clerk (two different opportunities), a special prosecutor, an author of a manual on legislative oversight, and has a wealth of private practice. I have watched their only debate and listened to what his opponent’s supporters say she will do if elected. He will uphold the law. His opponent, Judge Janet Protasiewicz, is currently a Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge and was previously an Assistant District Attorney. While she meets the requirements of a judge, I have grave doubts about her ability as a justice.
On April 4th I will vote for Justice Daniel Kelly to be the next justice on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court. You need to exercise your right to vote, but first decide if you will vote for the justice or the judge. Vote like democracy depends on it, and it does!