Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley and her challenger, Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, traded jabs Tuesday over the incumbent leaving oral arguments early.
The question arose during the Dane County Bar Association's candidate forum in Madison ahead of the April 5 election. Bradley and Kloppenburg covered the familiar territory of Bradley's college writings on gay people and AIDS as well as allegations Kloppenburg is soft on crime.
But when the questions turned to Bradley's recently leaving oral arguments to deliver a speech to Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the two candidates couldn't even agree on how much of the arguments she missed. Bradley said 10 minutes and Kloppenburg estimated 15 to 20.
Either way, Kloppenburg said, she has never seen it happen in 23 years.
"It is a dereliction of duty, and it is an affront to attorneys who have spent so much time preparing for oral argument," she said, "and to the parties who are left feeling, 'Did they get a fair shake?'"
Bradley has insisted she missed nothing. She said she had read the briefs and had all of her questions answered by the time she left. She said she then watched the rest on WisconsinEye.
Furthermore, Bradley said, in her five months on the bench since Gov. Scott Walker appointed her, she has seen justices arrive late and leave early for oral arguments.
"We all try to avoid having to miss any part of oral arguments or any other aspect of our responsibilities as Supreme Court justices," she said. "But the fact remains that my fellow colleagues occasionally miss portions of oral argument as well."
Justice Ann Walsh Bradley left oral arguments early last year to give a speech during her re-election campaign.
Still, Kloppenburg said, it's not simply a matter of having questions answered and then leaving. The back and forth between justices and attorneys during oral arguments is designed to lead to additional questions and different ways of framing a case, she said.
"It sure seems to someone in the legal community that someone who leaves the bench for a nonemergency reason during oral argument already made up her mind," Kloppenburg said.
But Bradley shot back that the real decision-making takes place after oral arguments, when the justices meet around a conference table and share their opinions on the case.
"With all due respect to Judge Kloppenburg, she just doesn't know what she's talking about when it comes to the oral arguments, the process by which the Supreme Court decides cases," she said. "She doesn't have the experience of sitting on the Wisconsin Supreme Court."
Bradley today also placed a value of a "million dollars-plus" on what the liberal One Wisconsin Now has given to Kloppenburg's campaign.
The justice used the amount when discussing Kloppenburg's criticism of those who support Bradley's campaign. Bradley said she could say the same about those who support Kloppenburg, adding OWN Executive Director Scot Ross uses "hateful" and "disgusting" language on social media and is demeaning to women with whom he disagrees.
"One Wisconsin Now has provided, I would put at, million dollars-plus in the value of what they provided to my opponent's campaign," Bradley said.
Kloppenburg disagreed and called the allegation inappropriate.
"One Wisconsin Now has absolutely no connection to my campaign," she said, "and my opponent can identify none."
Ross, whose group brought to light Bradley's college writings on gay people and those with AIDS, fired back at the justice today.
"Rebecca Bradley is clearly unhappy the media across Wisconsin are covering the hateful and hurtful things that she wrote," he said.
The candidates also touched on the possibility of an amendment to the state constitution that would require justices serve one 16-year term on the Supreme Court.
Bradley said that's a decision for lawmakers and the people of the state, though she joked about what some might expect her response to be.
"I think as people have seen how this campaign has gone for me," she said, "I might be somebody who's in favor of making changes to methods of judicial selection."
Kloppenburg said she understands the idea that such an amendment could help the state have "more fair judicial elections."
"But even that proposal doesn't account for the injection of millions of dollars by unregulated special interests that don't have to disclose their donors," she said.