One of three candidates for Wisconsin Supreme Court says her experience in the law far exceeds that of her two competitors.
She also likely could beat them in a footrace.
Jill Karofsky, a Dane County Court judge, faces law school professor Ed Fallone and incumbent Dan Kelly in the Feb. 18 primary. The top two vote-getters will face off in the April 7 election.
Karofsky and Fallone are liberals. Kelly is a conservative. The election is nonpartisan.
Karofsky visited Janesville on Wednesday. The Gazette will provide similar coverage of the other candidates if they make themselves available.
Asked about being a liberal, Karofsky said she is running on her experience, values and energy.
“People who come into my courtroom know that I follow the rule of law,” she said. “I don’t rule in favor of my personal or political beliefs. I’m able to give examples of that, which is something Dan Kelly is not able to do.”
Karofsky said her values come from her family, including her mother, one of the state’s first women mayors, who brought EMS and bus transportation to her city.
Her father was a pediatrician who opened a free clinic for teens when he retired, she said.
“So my folks showed me how important public service, how important members of your community are,” she said. “I talk to my kids about the importance of women’s rights and civil rights and human rights, and my kids all went to public school.”
She asked her two children their concerns as she prepared to run, and they pointed to gun violence in schools, the climate crisis and political corruption.
”These are the values that I have. Those are the values that I’m bringing to this race,” she said.
Asked to contrast herself with Fallone, Karofsky said he is not a sitting judge, and she has been a prosecutor and has been a victim advocate, something Fallone hasn’t done.
“Ed Fallone can’t touch the breadth and the depth of my experience,” she said.
Karofsky was a state high school tennis champion, competed in Division 1 as a runner in college, and has run in marathons and 50-mile races in recent years, at least once combining a race with campaigning up north and getting back to work the next day, she said.
“I’ve never been outworked or out-hustled, and I am not going to be out-hustled in this race,” she said.
“I’m the only person in this race who is or who has been a trial court judge. I heard over 1,700 cases just last year,” she said. “If you combine the number of cases that my opponents have been involved in as a lawyer or as a judge, they can’t come close to the number of cases that have been in front of me.”
A Supreme Court justice’s job is much different from that of a trial court judge, however. Karofsky said she deals with constitutional issues every day. On the Supreme Court, one must build consensus, something she has done her whole career, she said.
In the Dane County District Attorney’s Office, she worked with defense attorneys, judges, police and victim advocates to make reforms, she said. In the state Department of Justice, she worked with legislators and got a Supreme Court rule passed that requires victims to be identified only by their initials.
A Kelly campaign aide has called Karofsky an activist judge, and she said that people will inevitably disagree with someone who issues so many decisions. But she said anyone who examines her record will see she is dedicated to following the rule of law and treating everyone fairly and respectfully.
Karofsky said she has raised more than $350,000 for her campaign, including more than 2,000 individual contributions, showing grassroots support, which she thinks will be much more than Fallone’s total.
Karofsky supports a rule to require judges to recuse themselves in cases in which the parties have contributed more than a certain amount to their campaigns.
“Without that rule, we erode the public’s confidence in the judiciary,” she said. “… People will talk about outside money in these races until there’s a recusal rule.”
The contribution level should be set after the public, interest groups and judges discuss it, but the current court would not hold a hearing to discuss it, she said.