Our Views: Vote for Judge James Daley, constitutional change to reduce Supreme Court rancor
Listen to Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, seeking re-election to her third 10-year term on the state Supreme Court, and you'd think she's a squeaky-clean nonpartisan while her opponent, Rock County Judge James Daley, is as partisan as Gov. Scott Walker.
Sorry, Justice Bradley. The Gazette's editorial board isn't buying what you're selling.
On Tuesday, voters should replace Bradley with Daley and support the constitutional amendment to let justices choose their own leader.
If your car gets a flat tire, you pull over and change it. Similarly, why not change a justice often embroiled in controversy? Bradley and fellow Justice David Prosser had a physical altercation in 2011. It's no coincidence, however, that the court has been dysfunctional about as long as Bradley has served.
Bradley paints Daley as a partisan for speaking at Republican events and accepting a $7,000 donation from the state GOP. Daley counters that the contribution was a legal, in-kind donation for campaign staff and consulting and that he wasn't aware his campaign accepted it until Bradley voiced objections. He notes it's against the law for him to control or even coordinate with outside special-interest groups, as Bradley hints he's doing.
Daley points out that Bradley accepted union donations in past campaigns, then dissented on Act 10, the contentious state law that all but erased collective bargaining for most public employees. Bradley also scheduled a campaign stop, co-hosted by Democratic Rep. Debra Kolste, today at Janesville's Basics Cooperative. How is that different from Daley's talks?
Not surprisingly, trial attorneys have given generously to Bradley's campaign. Despite her nonpartisan claims, this liberal has ruled on the wrong side of too many issues. For example, she wrote the dissent in a 2008 case in which the court reinstated charges against three men accused of digging up a corpse to have sex with it. She voted against the state's voter ID law, which has been cleared for use, though not in time for this election. Daley is right that voter ID ensures integrity of elections and that no one votes on behalf of someone else.
Daley is an Elkhorn High School and Marquette Law School graduate. He earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star as a Marine in Vietnam. He later joined the Wisconsin Army National Guard and retired as brigadier general. Daley started his law career in Janesville. He was elected to three two-year terms as Rock County district attorney before then-Gov. Tommy Thompson appointed him judge in 1989. Daley has won elections since. Daley cited Bradley's opposition to voter ID and Act 10 as inspiring him to run against her.
We've watched Daley during his 26 years on the bench. He maintains good control of his courtroom. He doesn't belittle defendants, even when chastising them for wrongdoing. He's measured in comments and even wishes defendants good luck. He credits his military experience for teaching him how to work with diverse groups of people, treat them with respect and disagree without being disagreeable. You want that on the high court, where justices test logic and opposing views while debating case law so correct decisions emerge.
Daley supports the constitutional amendment. The justice with the most seniority now serves an unlimited term as chief justice, and that has long been Bradley's fellow liberal, Shirley Abrahamson. Bradley sees the amendment as a blatant attempt to oust Abrahamson. Nonsense. Twenty-two other states let peers select their chief justices. Only six use seniority for this important role of setting the high court's agenda and controlling and funneling some money to lower courts. Conservatives now control the court, but when liberals retake the majority, they could pick one of their own.
Bradley has self-interests. Abrahamson, 81, won't serve forever. Based on seniority, Bradley would be next in line for chief justice. The amendment would bring democracy to the high court, letting justices choose their leader every two years. That accountability might bring more decorum and dignity and less rancor.
On Tuesday, voters should change that “flat tire,” back Daley and vote “yes” to the amendment.