Capper* sent up the red flags months ago, but it happened anyway. As soon as right-winger Patience Roggensack took over as Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, everything went to hell in a handbasket.
Days before three state Supreme Court justices skipped ceremonies to admit new lawyers to the bar, Justice N. Patrick Crooks accused newly elected Chief Justice Patience Roggensack of breaking court rules by threatening to throw him off a case without any authority.
Crooks and another justice also contended Roggensack had violated court rules by scheduling a conference to discuss three cases without the permission of all seven justices, emails between the justices show.
The exchanges are the latest sign of turmoil on a court that has drawn national attention for infighting. Their disputes have been on public display in recent weeks because of a fight over who should run the court.
Former Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson sued the other justices a day after voters approved an amendment to the state constitution allowing members of the court to choose the chief justice. Before that, the job went to the longest serving member of the court.
After the amendment passed, Roggensack and the three other conservatives on the court chose her to lead the court. Abrahamson contends in her lawsuit she should serve as chief justice until 2019, when the 10-year term on the court she was last elected to expires.
The most recent display of friction on the court came on Monday, when Abrahamson, Crooks and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley skipped ceremonies to induct recent Marquette University Law School students into the bar.
Those are the three justices who did not support Roggensack for chief justice, and their move was viewed in legal circles as a protest of her leadership.
TL;DR: Shirley Abrahamson is suing for her job, and Roggensack is playing games with the court calendar to undermine the three justices who objected to Walker and his cronies' tinkering with the court.
Roggensack intentionally scheduled a meeting of the court on May 18th which was not on the agreed-upon calendar. When the three justices emailed to say they would not be at the Marquette ceremonies, Roggensack flexed her muscles.
She went on to write that the other justices would meet to discuss the cases and needed Abrahamson, Bradley and Crooks to send emails before the meeting started to say how they would vote on the cases.
"If we do not have your votes to consider at conference, the opinions will show any justice who does not send in his or her vote for consideration at decision conference as having withdrawn from the case," Roggensack wrote.
That threat was an empty one, but it certainly lit up Judge Crooks.
"The closed conference that you have scheduled for May 18, 2015, is a violation of our rules, since it was not on the court's calendar, and the unanimous consent required has not been received," he wrote. "Despite that, you apparently have decided to proceed. I object.
"The email that you sent on May 16, 2015, sets forth a deadline that my votes on three cases must be received before the unauthorized conference, or I will be considered as having withdrawn from participation in those cases. You have unilaterally decided, without any authority, to exclude me from participation in those cases. Such an action by you is without precedent. Obviously I object. If you take such action, I intend to notify the attorneys for the parties in each case of your unauthorized action, and that I did not withdraw from participation."
In response, Roggensack backed off slightly. She wrote that it would be helpful to have the votes of the absent justices before the meeting. But if they missed that deadline and submitted them by noon on May 19, "we will try to accommodate them," she wrote.
That didn't end particularly well for Roggensack, but it's just the first bump in the road.
When reports of Roggensacks power grab and actions started being reported in Wisconsin, Roggensack immediately ran to Milwaukee RW radio host Charlie Sykes to whine about the coverage. Yes, folks, that's right - she used a RW ideological hate talker instead of a reporter or even public radio. Even former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske was horrified at her choice of venue.
“For Roggensack to choose a very partisan radio show to make her announcement about being a consensus builder is really a bad first step to rebuilding the court’s reputation,” Geske says.
The RW doesn't care how things look anymore. It's the arrogance of feeling entitled to power. They don't govern or care about justice. When in office, they rule using every bit of authority they have, can muster, or can give themselves.
One of the most important cases the Wisconsin Supreme Court will decide will concern the John Doe 2 probe into illegal coordination between campaigns and dark money groups. Roggensack has already decided NOT to even hold a hearing on the case.
Well, of course. As soon as that initiative passed to screw around with Shirley Abrahamson's title, we all knew the fix was in on the John Doe case. This is what corrupt politicians do -- corrupt everything else that gets in their way.
But there's more. There's always more.
The Wisconsin Club for Growth and WMC did not make direct contributions to the campaigns for these justices. Instead, they poured millions into so-called independent issue ads that clearly conveyed messages that supported these campaigns. And in an odd twist, due to lax recusal guidelines—which were adopted at the urging of one of these conservative outfits—these justices on the state's high court are not compelled to sit out a case involving these two groups.
The Wisconsin Club for Growth and WMC are top players in a years-long undertaking by Walker and his allies to create a conservative majority on the Supreme Court that is friendly to conservative policies—an operation that has included spending millions on ads, ending public campaign financing for Supreme Court elections, rewriting the court's ethics guidelines, and amending the state's constitution. This effort has led to one of the most partisan and dysfunctional judicial bodies in the country, a court with liberal and conservative justices who won't appear together in public. And it could well end up benefiting the conservative groups under investigation should the jurists they helped elect rule the probe should stop.
So to summarize, the new conservative chief justice is intentionally blowing up the court, at least three justices aren't speaking to the other ones, Wisconsin Club for Growth and WMC bought themselves a conservative majority, and those bought justices don't have to recuse themselves from proceedings investigating their benefactors.
I might be tempted to ask how it could get worse, but I'm certain it can and will.
*(Capper is laid up with a broken humerus at the moment, so I'm sitting in for him. We all wish him a rapid recovery.)