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Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013

Supreme Sleaze

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court race, the most important election of the year, begins with a primary Tuesday, Feb. 19, involving three candidates the media have told you very little about.

Worse, some of what they’ve told you isn’t true.

The three candidates are Justice Patience Roggensack, who claims to be independent though she’s not; attorney Vince Megna, who claims to be a Democrat and is, and constitutional law professor Ed Fallone, who credibly claims to be running to restore respect for the law to the court.

Because Megna is a colorful, provocative attorney who gained fame suing car dealers and automobile companies under the “lemon law,” when the mainstream media mention the race at all, they devote a lot of attention to Megna.

Which no doubt is fine with Megna. One of the reasons private attorneys run for public office, even when they have little chance of winning, is to gain free publicity for their law practices.

Besides, Megna is a funny guy who enjoys dancing on the edge of propriety. He produced a series of YouTube videos satirizing Gov. Scott Walker’s “Keep Me Out of Waupun” criminal defense fund and the governor’s courageous stand “against the little guy”—poor people and teachers.

Megna wrote a humorous book, “Lap Dancers Don’t Take Checks: The Truth about Law, Lawyers and Other Trivialities.” He also once concluded testimony before a state Senate hearing by giving the committee what he called an “Italian salute.”

The most important contribution Megna’s made to the Supreme Court race is to expose Roggensack’s hypocrisy in pretending to be non-partisan. She’s not. Roggensack consistently votes with three other Republican-leaning justices to form a right-wing court majority.

While most court candidates hide their politics, Megna admits he’s a Democrat. He says Roggensack should tell the truth too, that she promotes the Republican political agenda in the court.

Roggensack isn’t about to confess. "I'm not real fond of labels," she says. “‘Conservative’ and ‘liberal’ is always difficult for us to apply to anybody on the court."

Well, not so difficult in Roggensack’s case.

Roggensack’s campaign spokesman is Brandon Scholz, the former executive director of the Wisconsin Republican Party.

He’s assisted by Alyssa Moyer, former deputy director of the state party and most recently Wisconsin political director for the Republican National Committee.

And the Wisconsin Club for Growth, the extreme right-wing Republican group that opposed Senate candidate Tommy Thompson as too liberal, has launched a $111,000 TV ad campaign to elect Roggensack.

Roggensack’s campaign finance report shows a combined total of nearly $10,000 in contributions from the Republican Women of Waukesha County and the Republican Party of Walworth County.

Roggensack received thousands of dollars from other prominent Republicans including Sheldon Lubar of River Hills and Diane Hendricks, the Beloit billionaire president of ABC Supply Co. who was Walker’s biggest financial backer, contributing more than half a million dollars to his campaigns.

It is important voters know Roggensack’s Republican connections because the Supreme Court will ultimately decide the legality of extreme actions by Walker and legislative Republicans that have been struck down by lower courts as unconstitutional.

That includes voting restrictions disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of black, brown, elderly and student voters Republicans fear might vote Democratic.

Roggensack regularly joins justices David Prosser, Michael Gableman and Annette Ziegler (all three of whom have been charged with ethical violations) in upholding whatever Walker and Republican legislators want to do.

That’s what makes law professor Fallone a particularly attractive candidate at a time when the Supreme Court has become a public embarrassment.

When the volatile Prosser put his hands around the neck of a female justice during an argument, Roggensack and the other majority justices prevented him from being disciplined by recusing themselves so there wouldn’t be a quorum to hear the ethics charges against Prosser.

In another particularly sleazy action, Roggensack and the other three rewrote court rules so they wouldn’t have to remove themselves from cases involving their own campaign contributors.

This would seem to be the perfect time for a constitutional law professor to join the court. Somebody sure needs to teach the majority a thing or two about law and the constitution.

Fallone is not easy to categorize politically. He would be the first Latino on the court. He also has worked as a corporate attorney. He teaches at conservative Marquette University Law School and calls himself a “process conservative,” which simply means he believes in following the law.

What a concept on this particular court where Roggensack and the majority regularly twist the law like a Krazy Straw.

Both parties should welcome a legal scholar on the court. The sleaziness of Roggensack’s majority may disgust Democrats, but it’s a real embarrassment to any honest Republicans.