Home / News Features / D.A. Chisholm Warns Supreme Court Candidate Koschnick on Campaign Allegations
Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009

D.A. Chisholm Warns Supreme Court Candidate Koschnick on Campaign Allegations

District attorney says Supreme Court candidates shouldn’t signal how they’d rule on cases

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Last year’s state Supreme Court race was the ugliest Wisconsin voters have ever witnessed. In fact, the candidate who won and now sits on the state’s highest court—Michael Gableman—is still facing the fallout from his distorted, race-baiting campaign commercials, which have been condemned by observers from all sides of the political spectrum.

So it wasn’t surprising that Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm warned a current candidate for the state Supreme Court—Jefferson County Judge Randy Koschnick—for inserting political code words into his campaign.

Koschnick has argued that his rival in the April election, longtime Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, is a “judicial activist” who “legislates from the bench”—code words that conservatives use to describe judges who they believe are liberal.

Koschnick has also claimed that 60% of Abrahamson’s decisions have favored defendants, implying that the chief justice sides with criminals over law enforcement. “We’re at opposite ends of the spectrum,” Koschnick told a crowd of lawyers and judges at a Feb. 4 Milwaukee Bar Association candidate forum.

He and Abrahamson have different philosophies, he explained. “I am a judicial conservative,” Koschnick said. “I do not believe it is proper to legislate from the bench.”

District Attorney Chisholm, who filled in for Abrahamson at the forum because she was in Madison hearing oral arguments before the court, countered that Koschnick’s allegations weren’t “appropriate” for a candidate for a nonpartisan office. “Judges shouldn’t be in the business of predicting or signaling or winking or nudging what direction they’re going to go when they decide a case,” Chisholm said.

He added that Abrahamson has been a “remarkable steward for the court system and the criminal justice system,” and she defies political stereotyping because her four appointments for chief judge of Milwaukee County Circuit Court have been strong and nonpartisan.

“You don’t have a judicial activist among them,” he said.

In fact, Chisholm said, Koschnick’s allegations about judicial philosophy seemed dangerously similar to Justice Gableman’s attack ads in last spring’s election.

Koschnick and Gableman both present themselves as pro-law-enforcement, prolife and pro-business. While Gableman’s biggest backer, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, appears to be sitting out this campaign because of pressure from its moderate members, people are concerned that some other right-wing front group will be used to purchase negative ads. Koschnick has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund, the Milwaukee Police Supervisors Organization and Wisconsin Right to Life’s PAC.

Open-records requests have revealed that Koschnick used his courthouse phone to contact Wisconsin Right to Life and the Wisconsin Family Council, the ultraconservative Christian organization headed by Julaine Appling, who led the fight to add an anti-same-sex marriage amendment to the state constitution in 2006.

“That’s what I’m concerned about here,” Chisholm said. “Judge Koschnick has, through his campaign, courted some of those same issues in the exact same way [as Gableman]. That’s what I caution him on. I ask him not to do that. Move away from that. Take the high ground. Argue the issues. But don’t go in this direction. We’re better than this. We should remain better than this.”

What’s your take?

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