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On its first day with liberal majority, Wisconsin Supreme Court fires administrator

The day after Justice Janet Protasiewicz was sworn in, the state court system's director was let go

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Janet Protasiewicz stands in front of a crowd as she swears in.
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice-elect Janet Protasiewicz is sworn in by Justice Ann Walsh Bradley on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023, at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

One day after the swearing-in of Janet Protasiewicz swung the Wisconsin Supreme Court to a liberal majority, the high court has fired Randy Koschnick, the director of the state’s courts system.

The move invited a strong condemnation from Chief Justice Annette Ziegler, a conservative, who described it as “dangerous conduct” that the full court did not agree to.

“Allowing all seven justices the opportunity to be heard and having the benefit of thoughtful discussion and debate before a formal vote is taken is key to a properly functioning court,” Ziegler wrote.

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Koschnick had served as director of the state court’s system since 2017. He was appointed by former Chief Justice Patience Roggensack under the court’s previous conservative majority.

A letter dated Wednesday and signed by Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, a liberal, on behalf of the court, formally informed Koschnick of his firing, effective that day.

“This letter is to inform you that your appointment to the unclassified position of Director of State Courts will be ending on August 2, 2023,” the letter reads. “We appreciate the contributions you have made to the Wisconsin Supreme Court and wish you the best in your future endeavors.”

Bradley did not respond to a request for comment.

In a strongly worded written statement, Ziegler called the firing “flawed procedurally, legally, and on its merit.”

She said that four justices — whom she did not name — had taken the action unilaterally, and described it as unprecedented. She also said that this would harm other court employees.

“It impacts the many valued, devoted, hardworking employees in the court system who are likely left wondering who and what is next?” Ziegler wrote. “Our courts deserve stability. “

A former judge himself, Koschnick also ran as a conservative candidate for the Supreme Court in 2009, losing to incumbent Justice Shirley Abrahamson.

In 2020, he received an award from the State Bar of Wisconsin for helping state courts transition to remote operations early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Koschnick was caught off-guard when informed that he would be removed from his position one day before Protasiewicz’s swearing-in.

While Ziegler described the move as unprecedented, it’s not the first time changes to the inner workings of the court have sparked controversy. In 2015, following the approval of a constitutional amendment by voters, the court’s conservative majority swapped out a liberal chief justice for a conservative one.

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