Conservative Chief Justice Annette Ziegler is accusing her liberal colleagues of “rogue lawlessness” in naming an “unlawfully appointed” interim director of state courts she charges has appointed reserve judges without her permission.
Liberal Justice Rebecca Dallet fired back that her colleagues are simply trying to create a process so the court can work effectively “in the face of an intransigent and uncollegial chief who apparently insists on a public debate about issues for political purposes, rather than allow a court majority to function as it always has.”
Dallet added in an email late last night, “When your majority wanted to remove a chief justice, mid-term no less, you had no compunction about doing it. Well, now a majority of the court wants to work differently.”
Dallet didn’t mention former liberal Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson by name in her email. Shortly after voters approved a constitutional amendment in April 2015 changing how the chief justice is selected, conservatives replaced her with former Justice Pat Roggensack.
The barbs, included in an exchange of emails yesterday, were the latest sign of tensions on the court between the new liberal majority and some conservative members. Ziegler has previously ripped into her colleagues for firing former Director of State Courts Randy Koschnick, accusing them earlier this month of “nothing short of a coup.”
Ziegler again took a series of shots at her liberal colleagues over email yesterday, accusing them again of a “coup” and of forming “a walking quorum, conducting meetings in secret.” As she has before, Ziegler knocked the liberal wing’s appointment of Audrey Skwierawski as interim director, saying she is ineligible to serve since she is still a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge. State law states sitting judges can’t accept a position of public trust during their term other than another judicial office.
Ziegler wrote in an email to her colleagues that she will post the position of state courts director for a nationwide search and rebuffed their request to schedule weekly Zoom meetings with their “invented committee and the unlawfully appointed interim director, Judge Skwierawski.”
Liberal members of the court voted to change administrative functions of the court, including the creation of a three-member committee to oversee various responsibilities that had previously been solely the purview of the chief justice.
“I will not condone such rogue lawlessness,” Ziegler wrote.
Dallet rejected Ziegler’s assertion that the chief justice is the constitutional administrator of the court, saying it was “made-up language.”
Dallet noted the Wisconsin Constitution states the chief shall be the administrative head of the judicial system, but stressed that authority shall be exercised “pursuant to procedures adopted by the Supreme Court.”
Dallet added that means “each member of the court has the same power and majority rules.”
She also defended the changes liberals have made, such as the creation of the three-member administrative committee that includes the chief justice. Dallet argued everything has been done appropriately with a new majority on the court since liberal Janet Protasiewicz joined Aug. 1.
“Under the circumstances the majority is adopting procedures to accommodate your desire to maintain your position as Chief Justice,” Dallet wrote.
That line is noteworthy as some court observers have wondered if the liberal majority would seek to replace Ziegler, who was elected to a new two-year term in March before Protasiewicz’s election.
Dallet also defended the appointment of Skwierawski, arguing the position is not an “office of public trust” and even if it were, it’s a “judicial office.” Sitting judges are allowed to accept another judicial office before their current term expires. Dallet cited an attorney general’s opinion in her email.
“Let me be crystal clear. The attempt to obstruct the proper business of the court and the furtherance of justice comes from you,” Dallet wrote to Ziegler in an email the liberal justice released to WisPolitics.
Read the emails from Ziegler and Skwierawski here.
Read Dallet’s email here.