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March 29, 2015

Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates clash over partisan accusations

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, Judge James Daley

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, Judge James Daley

Claims of politics influencing the Supreme Court dominated a meeting between the two candidates vying for a seat on the bench. Incumbent Justice Ann Walsh Bradley and her challenger, Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley, faced each other Friday night in a debate broadcast statewide by Wisconsin Public Television.

Bradley, who is seeking a third ten year term on the bench, says she is running for reelection because she cares about the state’s system of justice. Daley says he is running to bring some “common sense and humility back to the Supreme Court.”

Daley has spent much of the election cycle criticizing Bradley’s history on the court, arguing she has been on the wrong side of several controversial decisions, including Governor Scott Walker’s controversial collective bargaining legislation and the state’s Voter ID law. He echoed those lines of attack again in Friday’s debate, accusing her of being an “activist jurist” who bases her decisions on personal beliefs, instead of the law.

Bradley has defended her record, noting that the cases that often come before the court are there because of nuances in the law. She said “the issues come to us in very discrete areas,” and the only agenda a justice should have is to uphold the constitution of the state.

Bradley has also been critical of Daley for reaching out to Republicans for support and receiving funding from the state Republican Party. She repeatedly pointed out that Daley has been traveling the state talking to GOP gatherings; a tour he defended. Daley claimed Bradley is “trying to assume that I’m, in fact, under the thumb of the Republican Party. No. I’m talking to people who are, as I am, concerned about the activist jurist that Justice Bradley is.”

The two candidates will face each other in an election next Tuesday, April 7.

Wisconsin agrees to $1.1 million payment in gay marriage case

Couples celebrate after a decision striking down the gay marriage ban was upheld. (Photo: WRN)

Couples celebrate after a decision striking down the gay marriage ban was upheld. (Photo: WRN)

The state Department of Justice has agreed to pay attorneys for eight same sex couples who challenged Wisconsin’s gay marriage ban nearly $1.1 million.

The agreement announced Friday is intended to cover the legal fees and other costs of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, which challenged the state’s 2006 constitutional ban on gay marriage in federal court. The amendment was struck down last year, and the decision was allowed to stand last fall after the US Supreme Court passed on reviewing the case.

The agreement filed in the United State District Court for Western Wisconsin states that a check for the full amount is being requested from the Wisconsin Department of Administration, which will “be delivered to Plaintiffs’ counsel promptly upon receipt.”

Wisconsin Supreme Court will not hear arguments in John Doe case

WRN file photo

WRN file photo

The state Supreme Court will not hear oral arguments in a legal challenge to a John Doe investigation into potential illegal campaign coordination between conservative groups and Governor Scott Walker’s campaign.

In a 4-2 decision released late Friday afternoon, the high court said its decision was based on concerns about the impact of a secrecy order issued in the proceedings, which would prevent them from being able to publicly identify some plaintiffs in the case. Several of the unnamed groups targeted by the probe have argued that their activity was not illegal, and a judge sided with that position more than a year ago in halting the investigation.

The Supreme Court was set to hear arguments in the case in mid-April and has been trying to work out how the case should be handled for several weeks. Supreme Court proceedings are typically broadcast on WisconsinEye, and the court had been considering solutions that included having a tape delay of the proceedings or holding them in secret. In the opinion released Friday, the majority wrote “On the one hand, the court is strongly adverse to the idea of closing the courtroom to the public; our long tradition is to render public decisions based on public arguments, both oral and written. On the other hand, we must uphold the John Doe secrecy orders.”

Instead of oral arguments, justices will rely on briefs filed in the case.

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Justice David Prosser dissented in the decision. Abrahamson wrote in her opinion that “Although it would not be free from difficulty, oral argument is legally and practically possible,” while Prosser took the position that they have the authority to close the courtroom to maintain the secrecy of the John Doe proceedings.

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, who faces reelection on April 7, did not participate. She has previously cited a conflict of interest in the case.

Wisconsin DOJ completes review of Tony Robinson shooting

tonyrobinson

Tony Robinson

A report on the fatal shooting of a biracial man by a Madison police officer is now in the hands of the Dane County District Attorney. The state

Department of Justice turned over its findings Friday following a nearly three week long investigation into the shooting death of 19-year-old Tony Robinson.

Robinson was shot by white Madison Police Officer Matt Kenny on March 6, after Kenny responded to reports that Robinson was running in and out of traffic and had assaulted someone. Madison Police have said Robinson attacked Kenny before he was shot. The death sparked more than a week of peaceful protests around Madison, including multiple walk-outs by high school students.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne has not set a timetable for making any decision on whether Kenny will face any charges. Until then, the state’s report will not be made public.

A spokeswoman for the DOJ noted that DA Ozanne could request an additional investigation, which would result in additional reports from DCI, while also stressing that their reports “are only a part of the large amount of information which the DA will consider before issuing his findings.”

New Wisconsin elk herd arrives in Jackson County

Elk (Photo: Wisconsin DNR)

Elk (Photo: Wisconsin DNR)

A new herd of elk has arrived in Wisconsin. The 26 animals donated by Kentucky arrived at a quarantine site in Jackson County on Thursday.

Department of Natural Resources big game ecologist Kevin Wallenfang says the animals, which include there bulls, will be kept in a seven acre pen in the Black River State Forest for the next few months. The current plan is to fit them with radio collars and then release them later this summer, near the end of June.

Wallenfang says it was great to see the animals arrive in the state on Thursday, after DNR staff traveled through the night to transport them in two large trailers. He says “it’s a big relief” to finally have them here.

Efforts to reintroduce elk in Wisconsin started in 1995, with 25 animals donated by Michigan. The herd, located in Ashland County, has grown to about 160 animals in the past 20 years.