PRESS EDITORIAL: Political attack on judge has a familiar ring

The justice system disaster endured by Ozaukee County for six years serves as an unmistakeable warning of the peril and folly of exploiting a nonpartisan election to advance a political agenda at the expense of judicial competence and experience.

That disaster was the election of Joseph Voiland as Ozaukee County Circuit Court judge in 2013 in a political takeover of a local election that wreaked dysfunction and bitter controversy on the court system.

Now there are disturbing similarities in the run-up to the April election of the Court of Appeals judge for the Second District, which includes Ozaukee, Washington and Sheboygan counties and nine others.

The incumbent, Jeffrey Davis, a widely respected lawyer who was a partner in the Quarles & Brady law firm and a Marquette University Law School professor, has by all accounts served competently as appellate judge since being appointed in 2019.

Yet he is being attacked by his opponent’s campaign for alleged allegiance to “Madison liberals” and a “left-wing agenda.” That campaign has the political fingerprints of former Gov. Scott Walker all over it, which accounts for the similarity with the Voiland experience. Political actors aligned with Walker were responsible for it.

It was a political ploy that propelled Voiland to victory in the nonpartisan Ozaukee County Circuit Court election over Judge Tom Wolfgram, the incumbent who was held in high regard for fair and competent administration of justice by his judicial colleagues and the legal profession. Voiland won by making the fact that Wolfgram had, as a private citizen, signed a petition for the recall of Walker the single issue in a campaign aimed at leveraging the strong Republican political leanings of Ozaukee voters.

Now Davis is being targeted in the appellate court election because he happens to have been appointed by Gov. Tony Evers. Shelley Grogan, a Muskego municipal judge who sought the governor’s appointment but was passed over, is his opponent. Her campaign manager is Scott Walker’s son Alex. Her fundraising appeal letters are signed by Walker’s wife Tonette.

Trying to unseat Davis with a transparently phony link to a “left-wing agenda” has the look of a desperate attempt to score points against the man who defeated Walker in the last gubernatorial election.

In its zeal to execute a political coup in a nonpartisan election, the Walker faction seems to have miscalculated. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported last week that major donors to the Republican Party are furious with the Walker clan over the attacks on Davis.

Davis’ father Don Davis Jr., former CEO of Rockwell Automation, has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates, including $25,500 to Scott Walker, according to political reporter Daniel Bice.

The Bice report included excerpts from a letter to the Walkers from Davis’ mother Sallie that bitterly accused them of writing fundraising letters full of “half truths and outright lies” about her son.

The evident clumsiness of the Walker judicial campaign should help voters make the right decision in the April 6 Appeals Court election. For further guidance, they could refer to the Voiland record in Ozaukee County.

Soon after he assumed his office, Voiland threw a wrench into the formerly smooth running county court system by accusing the presiding judge, the clerk of courts and the circuit court commissioner of felonies by falsifying documents and other misdeeds, claiming the crimes were part of conspiracy to embarrass him.

An investigation by a former U.S. attorney appointed by the chief judge of the district found the accusations to be false and the cause of a “lack of trust that has affected the administration of the court system.”

The public paid a price for the victory by the political forces behind Voiland with a court system injured by the distractions of the new judge’s attacks on his colleagues as well as his dubious legal decisions and spotty work record.

The sense of relief since he left the court nearly two years ago lingers, as does the lesson learned from the political exploitation of a local judicial election.

 

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494
 

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