Wisconsin Supreme Court emails detail chaotic first week of liberal control (UPDATE).

AuthorKelly, Jack

Byline: Bridgetower Media Newswires

By Jack Kelly and Matthew DeFour

Wisconsin Watch

On Friday, Aug. 4, within hours of the Wisconsin Supreme Court's new liberal majority voting to update rules cementing its control over court business, liberal Justice Rebecca Dallet shared the changes with all of the justices, but they included a typo.

Conservative Chief Justice Annette Ziegler asked twice for a copy of the correct version. Dallet's law clerk wrote to the justices that the changes would not be released that day. "So you refuse to give me what you passed today?" Ziegler replied by email.

Fifteen minutes later, Dallet's clerk sent Ziegler the document she requested. A half hour later, Ziegler, through a court spokesperson, emailed to the press the documents and a public statement declaring "four rogue members of the court met in a secret, unscheduled, illegitimate closed meeting in an attempt to gut the Chief Justice's constitutional authority as administrator of the court."

Two days later, on Sunday morning, after Ziegler told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel she was an "eternal optimist" and "would like to think that we will be able to work well together," Dallet wrote to Ziegler that she was "also optimistic that we can work together on court business." She suggested they and the other member of a newly created administrative committee, liberal Justice Jill Karofsky, meet on Tuesday.

Ziegler was having none of it.

"I am not willing to violate my oath or the constitution," Ziegler replied more than nine hours later, looping in the court's other six justices. "You know that this invented 'committee' is in violation of your oath, the constitution and longstanding practice. It is illegitimate and unenforceable."

She concluded: "I will not participate in your sham experiment."

Conservative Chief Justice Annette Ziegler has tried to put the brakes on the Supreme Court liberal majority's new administrative rules, which have blocked her authority. She is seen in the Wisconsin Supreme Court Hearing Room in Madison, Wis., on Dec. 1, 2022. (Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch)

So ended the chaotic first week of liberal control of the state Supreme Court, according to a trove of correspondence between the court's justices obtained by Wisconsin Watch via open records requests.

The emails reveal previously unknown details of how the liberal majority rushed to exert its newfound influence and the conservatives, no longer in the majority for the first time since 2008, tried to slow things down. They also show how the power struggle which comes as liberal groups race to topple the state's Republican-gerrymandered legislative districts ahead of the 2024 election had been underway for months.

After a chaotic first week, Justice Rebecca Dallet reached out to Chief Justice Annette Ziegler about working together, in an email sent on Aug. 6, 2023.

Chief Justice Annette Ziegler responds to Justice Rebecca Dallet's email on Aug. 6, 2023, with a refusal to participate in a "sham experiment."

During their first week in control, the liberals fired a top court official and hired his interim replacement; changed the court's rules to shift power away from the chief justice to a three-judge, liberal majority committee; and altered the court's operating procedures to give the majority power over key court functions, such as scheduling oral arguments.

The emails also suggest that the court's liberal justices advanced significant personnel and rule changes after limited discussion with the full court and over strong objections from their conservative colleagues. Though the rules were adopted by a majority vote on Aug. 4, Justice Brian Hagedorn informed his colleagues he intended to write a dissent based on concerns that proper procedures were not followed, specifically a public hearing on the changes. Ziegler encouraged that the issue be discussed publicly at a previously scheduled Sept. 7 hearing.

Additional correspondence obtained by Wisconsin Watch from the secretary of state's office further highlights the chaotic nature oEf the first week of liberal rule. State officials struggled to locate Justice Janet Protasiewicz's oath of office which she signed more than a week before taking office even as she had started to weigh in on court matters.

The state Supreme Court emails and documents reviewed for this story were released separately to Wisconsin Watch by the court's conservative members: Ziegler, Hagedorn and Justice Rebecca Bradley. The court's liberal members, Dallet, Karofsky, Protasiewicz and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, did not release responsive records before publication. Matthew Woleske, an aide to Dallet, said in an email that the justice "??is actively working on a response" to Wisconsin Watch's records request and the news organization "will receive a response as soon as practicable and without delay."

Personnel changes sparked first public feud

On Monday, July 31, then-Director of State Courts Randy Koschnick received a phone call from Karofsky informing him he would be fired once Protasiewicz was sworn in and liberals took control of the court. His ouster was...

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