Candidates In Supreme Court Race Go On Offensive In Televised Debate

Daley, Walsh Accuse Each Other Of Being Soft On Crime, Overly Partisan

Michael Leland/WPR

The two candidates in the race for the state Supreme Court met in Madison on Friday evening for a heated televised debate in which both the candidates were on the attack.

Ann Walsh Bradley, an incumbent Supreme Court justice, and James Daley, a Rock County Judge, repeatedly accused each other of being partisan, beholden to special interests, and soft on crime throughout the hour-long event that was televised live on Wisconsin Public Television.

Daley described Bradley as a “judicial activist,” specifically pointing to her dissenting opinions in Supreme Court rulings that upheld the Act 10 collective bargaining law and a voter ID law. He also said she was being given large campaign donations from unions and trial attorneys.

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Bradley said that she’s a nonpartisan justice who gives all parties before the court “a fair shake.” She said that when Daley accuses her of activism, he instead means that he doesn’t agree with her decisions.

She, in turn, alleged that Daley has been actively soliciting for funds from “outside special interest groups” and has been given an unprecedented amount of support from the Republican Party.

Both justices also continued to strike on the theme of their opponents being “soft on crime,” as they have nearly continuously throughout their campaigns. In his opening statement, Daley said of Bradley, “She has been a friend of criminals at times.” He later said that she has expanded the rights of defendants in order to get them exonerated.

Toward the end of the debate, Bradley launched into a jarringly graphic description of a child abuse case that Daley heard as a county judge. She said that he ended up giving the perpetrator in the case an alarmingly lenient sentence, indicating that he was the one who had an issue handling criminal defendants.

At one point, the judges were asked about a 2011 incident in which Bradley got into a physical confrontation with fellow Justice David Prosser. An ethics proceeding looking into the incident has since stalled.

Bradley largely refused to comment on the incident, saying, “I don’t think this Supreme Court race is about Justice Prosser’s misconduct.” Daley, however, said that the incident goes to show that Bradley is at the heart of what he calls “dysfunction on the high court.”

The justices also addressed a proposed amendment that would change how the Supreme Court selects its chief justice. Under the proposal, which will be voted on in the upcoming election, justices would vote for the chief, instead of having the most senior justice automatically declared chief justice.

Bradley said that voters should reject the amendment, asserting that it was a “tool for political payback” wielded by people who oppose the current chief justice, Shirley Abrahamson. Daley disagreed, saying that the proposed system would hold the chief justice accountable. He also asserted that Bradley opposed the amendment because she herself hopes to become chief justice through the seniority system.

The event marked the final debate between the two candidates in the run-up to the April 7 election. It was the only one to be televised.