Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg (left), Justice Rebecca Bradley (right)

Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg (left), Justice Rebecca Bradley (right)

Accusations of partisanship and personal attacks dominated the latest meeting between the two candidates for the Wisconsin state Supreme Court.

Tuesday night’s debate at Marquette University, broadcast by WISN-TV, focused heavily on comments made by both candidates in recent weeks and several years ago, along with their records on the bench. Incumbent Justice Rebecca Bradley repeatedly found herself responding to accusations about conservative influences on her career, while Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg defended her rulings and criticisms she’s directed at her opponent.

Both candidates are seeking a ten year term in the state’s high court, with Bradley hoping to retain the seat she was appointed to last fall following the death of Justice Patrick Crooks.

Bradley accused Kloppenburg of trying to bring politics into what’s supposed to be a non-partisan race by repeatedly referencing her appointments by Governor Scott Walker, who has named her three times to fill judicial positions. Kloppenburg cited her concerns about the influence of politics in the judiciary though, saying she is “unwilling to surrender our court to partisan politics and outside special interests that threaten to undermine its independence and integrity.”

While Walker has appointed her to judicial positions three times, Bradley pointed out that Kloppenburg herself also applied for appointments three times under then-Governor Jim Doyle – and was passed over each time. Kloppenburg argued that was a sign of her independence though, saying she lacked the “political connections” necessary to obtain the positions.

Bradley also responded to questions about opinion pieces she wrote in 1992, while she was a student at Marquette, which included several pieces that expressed anti-gay rhetoric. The justice once again apologized for those remarks and maintained that her worldview has changed since then. Kloppenburg has argued her career does not back up that claim though, drawing a sharp response from Bradley. “It’s unbelievable that my opponent has the audacity to suggest that she can look into my heart and mind and say anything about the person I am,” she said.

Kloppenburg argued there’s a difference between youthful indiscretions and what Bradley wrote though. “These were deliberate articulations of publishes positions…not just once, but several times,” she said.

Bradley also pressed Kloppenburg to disavow an article published last week in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which raised questions about her decision to represent someone in a custody dispute who she had had a prior romantic relationship with. She called the report a “vile piece of garbage,” but Kloppenburg argued that “any article or reporting that has facts and that reports the choices that I may have made, the words that I said, the judgment that I exercised, is fair game.”

The two candidates are expected to meet again in a debate Friday night in Madison. The election is April 5.

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