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Air War Coming Over Chief Justice Ballot Measure in Wisconsin

Seal_of_the_Supreme_Court_of_Wisconsin.svgA proposed constitutional amendment to change the way the Wisconsin Chief Justice is selected will be the subject of advertising for and against it, sponsored by rival groups, in the run-up to the April 7 referendum.

If passed, the Republican-drafted amendment likely would result in demotion of Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, a member of the court’s liberal minority. It would allow the court’s members to choose the Chief Justice instead of conferring that job on the justice of greatest seniority. Critics say the measure is a partisan power grab, while supporters say it enables democracy.

Vote Yes for Democracy, a pro-amendment group, reported it has raised $600,000 from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, according to a Madison.com article. Vote Yes for Democracy reported spending $189,100 on radio advertising, and its spokesman said TV advertising is coming.

The Greater Wisconsin Committee, meanwhile, released a radio ad against the proposed amendment. In it, former state Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske urged a “No” vote. Make Your Vote Count, an anti-amendment group, said it raised $80,000 for the effort, Madison.com reported. Read more

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N.Y. Times: Surging Judicial Election Spending Sows Potential Conflicts

gavel_cash_20121102165220_320_240A recusal motion before the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a politicized case offers an example of how “a rising tide of money in state judicial races is creating potential conflicts for judges who sit on cases involving donors,” the New York Times reported, relying on data from Justice at Stake:

“Judges in the highest courts in 38 states face some type of election, and in the 2011-12 election cycle, the latest for which data is available, more than $56 million was spent on those races, nearly twice as much as in the 1990s, according to Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan research group.”

As mentioned earlier by Gavel Grab, a special prosecutor has requested that one or more Wisconsin Supreme Court justices recuse themselves from hearing challenges to a campaign finance investigation. Four justices are reported to have benefited from multimillion-dollar spending by three groups involved in the cases. The groups now reportedly under investigation for possible campaign finance violations in connection with Wisconsin Gov. Walker’s campaign during the recall election of 2011 and 2012.

“It boggles the mind that these justices are saying that they can somehow be impartial when these parties to the case have been essentially stuffing their pockets with huge wads of cash,” Matt Rothschild, the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, told the Times. His group is a JAS partner organization. Read more

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JAS: So Far, Only One Side Buys TV Ads in Wisconsin Court Race

Outside spending is still slow to take off in the April 7 Wisconsin Supreme Court election, UrbanMilwaukee reports by quoting Justice at Stake data.

The campaign of incumbent Justice Ann Walsh Bradley has booked TV ads valued at more than $220,000, and challenger Judge James Daley and independent groups have booked no ads so far.

“This is very unusual for a Wisconsin race, given the extent to which Club for Growth, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Citizens for a Strong America, and the Greater Wisconsin Committee have played in the past,” says Laurie Kinney, JAS communications director. “That is one reason why we are watching closely to see if all that will change with a last-minute surge of ad buys. More contracts can definitely be booked before the election and it wouldn’t be unusual if they were, although this is pretty late.” Read more

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Competing Opinions Highlight Importance of Wisconsin Question 1

Two opposing viewpoints find their way to the opinion pages today regarding Wisconsin’s constitutional amendment to change the way the chief justice of the Supreme Court is selected (see Gavel Grab).

Justice at Stake executive director Bert Brandenburg’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel op-ed lays out reasons Wisconsinites should vote no on Question 1, highlighting the partisan nature that he feels is already hurting the courts.

“Its reputation has suffered as a result of a series of fiercely partisan and cash-soaked judicial elections; there is no need to inject a dose of raw politics into the day-to-day management of court business as well. The people of Wisconsin would suffer.”

Read more

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Article: Group Spending on Judicial Elections is Highly ‘Mysterious’

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 1.34.38 PMFor the second time this week, a major national news outlet has cast a spotlight on a so-called “social welfare organization” using secret money to influence state judicial elections. In TIME, an article by the Center for Public Integrity calls the Law Enforcement Alliance of America “one of the country’s most mysterious hit squads.”

LEAA, which operates in “near-complete secrecy,” has parachuted into statewide races at a late hour and run stinging attack ads; it helped defeat an Arkansas Supreme Court candidate last year (see Gavel Grab), the article says. Said former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz, who was defeated in 2008 and targeted by an LEAA advertising campaign tying him to rapists and murderers:

“They can put out some sort of horrible attack ad on any judges that they want and really influence an election with a fairly small amount of money. They’re buying seats on supreme courts in states all around the country.”

The article quoted Justice at Stake data to report that Judge Denise Langford Morris was defeated in her bid for the Michigan Supreme Court in 2010 after LEAA spent $800,000 on ads attacking her (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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Wisconsin Ballot Item Concerns of JAS, Others Get News Media Airing

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 10.41.23 AMAfter groups including Justice at Stake announced opposition to a proposed constitutional amendment changing the way the Wisconsin Chief Justice is selected (see Gavel Grab), the issue captured a higher profile in state news media.

JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg criticized the proposal as “100 percent politics” and said Republican legislators were attempting to “bend the rules” by handling Wisconsin courts “like their own political playground,” according to a Madison.com article.

“Their actions are about a partisan power grab that is aimed at one person in this state,” said former Democratic Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager. She was referring to Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who could be demoted if the proposed constitutional amendment is approved by voters on April 7. Read more

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JAS on Wisconsin Referendum: ‘Pure Political Hardball’

630px-Seal_of_WisconsinAs several groups declared on Monday their opposition to a referendum to change how the Wisconsin Chief Justice is selected, Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg condemned the proposal as “pure political hardball.”

The groups spoke at a news conference in Madison that drew coverage from a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel blog. “The voters of Wisconsin should be able to keep power to chose the chief justice, not a handful of judges,” said Mike Wilder of Wisconsin Voices.

The April 7 referendum is called Question 1. It asks voters to decide whether to change the state constitution to allow the court’s justices to choose the Chief Justice, rather than conferring the job on the most senior justice. Critics have framed the proposal as a means to demote Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, widely considered as a member of the court’s more liberal minority. The referendum is a result of action by the Republican-controlled legislature. Read more

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Article Labels Judicial Crisis Network a ‘Dark Money Juggernaut’

Sales-Tax-money-gavelThe Judicial Crisis Network has evolved from a similarly named outfit once devoted to supporting President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees into a “dark money juggernaut” spending millions of dollars to influence state judicial and attorneys general races, the The Daily Beast reports.

The long investigative piece, which uses Justice at Stake data about judicial election spending trends, also says Judicial Crisis Network “has emerged as a pipeline for secret money to other, better-known dark money groups like the Wisconsin Club for Growth and the American Future Fund which, in turn, have spent big bucks in state Supreme Court and AG races.”

The article by Viveca Novak and Peter Stone says the Republican State Leadership Committee, which invested heavily last year in state judicial elections, received checks from JCN. It also reports that JCN sunk $1 million into an unsuccessful 2012 effort to defeat a lower-court judge in Oakland County, Michigan, and it explores why the judge may have been targeted. Read more

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Citing JAS, Opinion Criticizes Proposed WI Constitutional Amendment

In Wisconsin, debate is brewing over a proposal to change the way the Supreme Court Chief Justice is selected. A Capital Times opinion by Associate Editor John Nichols, mentioning Justice at Stake, says the proposal “would make an already-divided court more divided.”

The proposed constitutional amendment would allow the court’s justices to choose the Chief Justice, rather than conferring the job on the most senior justice. Voters will be asked to consider it on April 7. Critics say it is appeared aimed at demoting longtime Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson.

Nichols’ opinion mentions the extent to which spending by special interest and partisan groups have made Wisconsin judicial elections a topic of national commentary. He quotes JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg as saying recently, “Wisconsin’s judicial elections have often led the nation in spending by outside groups, and they’ve produced some of the nastiest ads seen across the country.” Read more

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Arnold & Porter Litigation Partner Preheim Joins JAS Board

webbiophoto_F3B2A1E6C3F2AJustice at Stake announced on Friday that attorney Elissa J. Preheim, a litigation partner with nearly two decades of experience at Arnold & Porter, has joined its board of directors.

“We are thrilled to have a litigator of Ms. Preheim’s caliber and experience join the Justice at Stake board,” said Mark Harrison, the board chair, in a news release. 

“Ms. Preheim has appeared at the trial and appellate levels of both federal and state courts, and she knows from experience the importance of keeping our courts fair and impartial,” said Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director. 

Preheim’s practice focuses on securities, complex commercial and environmental litigation, with an emphasis on securities enforcement, class actions, and professional liability. 

Preheim has served on the Board of Directors of the Council for Court Excellence and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs, and she sits on the Board of Visitors of the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. She currently serves as a Hearing Committee Chair of the Board on Professional Responsibility of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

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