Justice Rebecca Bradley Friday slammed challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg as inconsistent on third-party ads and recusal rules for judges, saying the appeals court judge has failed to live up to the standards she now professes.
Kloppenburg, meanwhile, challenged a series of decisions Bradley has made as a college student, private attorney and now on the bench that she said shows the incumbent comes from a partisan background and is not an independent voice on the court.
Bradley took several shots at Kloppenburg in their debate over where she stands now compared to 2011, when the then-assistant attorney general challenged Justice David Prosser. A third-party group ran a TV ad in that campaign that accused Prosser of mishandling a child sex abuse case when he was a district attorney. The victim in the spot called for it to be removed, but Kloppenburg did not disavow it.
Now, Kloppenburg has denounced a third-party TV ad that she says cherry picks and distorts a case involving a sex offender that she heard on the 4th District Court of Appeals.
Likewise, Bradley said, Kloppenburg has been critical of recusal standards the court approved before Bradley became a member that allow justices to sit on cases involving parties who have contributed to their campaigns. Bradley pointed out Kloppenburg heard an appeals court case involving a group that spent heavily against her in that 2011 race.
“You can’t have it both ways,” Bradley said.
Kloppenburg countered voters should consider the choices each of them have made and how they made it to the bench. Kloppenburg said she has made a career of standing up for the people of Wisconsin and has issued hundreds of decisions during her 3.5 years on the court of appeals.
By comparison, she said Bradley had a thin resume as a judge, was appointed three times to the bench in three years by Gov. Scott Walker, has belonged to partisan groups such as the National Republican Lawyers Association, has accepted help from the state GOP in her current campaign and left oral arguments early to address Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.
Kloppenburg said the challenge for voters is to decide which one will be more independent on the court.
“They can tell that by how we got where we are and the choices we made,” she said.
Those choices include Bradley’s decision to represent a man with whom she had a romantic relationship in a child custody case. Bradley has ripped the newspaper story detailing the case as garbage and irrelevant to the race. She also has challenged Kloppenburg to disavow the story, saying her refusal to do so raises questions about her judgment.
Kloppenburg said lawyers she’s spoken with have raised concerns about representing someone with whom an attorney is romantically involved in a family law case. That’s particularly true, she said, because Bradley could have been called as a witness.
She argued the case raises questions about Bradley’s judgment and that’s something voters should consider.
“I have no interest in talking about her personal life,” Kloppenburg said. “I agree with her. That’s not relevant.”
Bradley continued to slam the story, calling it salacious and a low blow that crossed the line. She added Kloppenburg’s refusal to disavow it raises concerns about her challenger’s judgement.
“It was sexist and it should offend not only every other person in the state of Wisconsin, but particularly women in the state of Wisconsin because we are treated differently when we run for office,” Bradley said.
The hourlong debate, which was moderated by Wisconsin Public TV's Frederica Freyberg and Wisconsin Public Radio's Shawn Johnson, featured the two continuing to trade jabs over Bradley’s college writings. They included Bradley referring to some with AIDS as "degenerates," included the line "Homosexual sex kills" and used the word "queer" derisively.
Kloppenburg said she has “no interest in going into my opponent’s soul,” but she said Bradley’s career choices raise questions whether there is evidence she has truly changed the beliefs she held in 1992, when the pieces ran. She also pointed to a 2006 column Bradley wrote equating contraception with murder, and the role Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke plays in the justice’s campaign. Clarke, a vocal opponent of gay marriage, is featured in a new radio ad Bradley began running this week.
“He’s not just an endorser. He’s an integral part of her campaign,” Kloppenburg said, adding Bradley’s positions raise questions if everyone will get a “fair shake” before her.
Bradley again apologized for the anti-gay writings. She also dismissed the focus on her past writings, saying the college pieces were written when she was 21 and the 2006 column was before she became a judge. Voters, she argued, should only focus on judicial philosophy in deciding who to support in the race.
She also dismissed Kloppenburg’s questions about Clarke’s support, saying she has a diverse group of supporters and couldn’t possibly believe everything they believe.
Bradley also said it was concerning that Kloppenburg doesn't believe people can change compared to where they were in their youth. That’s particularly true for a judge, she said.
“We must believe in the power of redemption,” Bradley said.