Dane County has critical judicial race for progressives - April 2

This is not an opinion piece—this a fact filled, informational piece to inform Dane County voters about the real choice they have in the upcoming April election for Circuit Court Judge.  This is a critical election for progressives.  Dane County judges have the ability to stop overreaching legislation and possibly even executive orders based on our State and Federal Constitutional laws.  Which candidate is more likely to do that?


I am supporting  Rhonda Lanford in the Dane County Judicial race.  One fact cannot be ignored – Rhonda signed the recall petition against Scott Walker.http://iverifytherecall.com/


While Rebecca St. John was not a judge at the time, she didn’t sign the recall petition.  Rebecca was appointed by Governor Walker and took the bench last September.  Do these two facts indicate that she doesn’t support progressive values but rather conservative ones?  Not in and of themselves.


The proof that Rebecca St. John is a conservative jurist is in the Judicial Application (obtained through an open records request) that Rebecca St. John submitted in order to be appointed by Governor Walker to the Dane County bench.    You can access the entire judicial application at: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B3El7ZE_0hTBZmtGOER0dGY4ZWc/edit



Rebecca St. John believes courts should be restrained from overturning legislative acts.  This troubles me since such cases as Roe v Wade, or Dane County Judge Colas’ decision to stop the implementation of the Voter ID bill before the presidential election, and Judge Sumi’s decision to overturn Act 10 (because it was enacted in violation of the open meetings law and the right of the people to know what our legislators are doing), required the overturning of a legislative act


Rebecca was endorsed in her application by the former president of the conservative Federalist Society, Attorney Christine Rew Barden. 

(For an interesting article about the Federalist Society: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/28/AR2005072801779.html)


In Attorney Barden’s letter to Governor Walker, she writes:

“As a past President of the Federalist Society … know that I am especially attuned to the concept of judicial restraint.  … Judicial Council was no exception.  I saw in Rebecca a restraint and dedication to applying the law as it stands and a recognition that changes in the substantive law be pursued through appropriate, legislative, channels.”  (Emphasis added)


In Rebecca’s own words she adopts the Federalist Society’s view that the separation of powers means courts would rarely, if ever, overturn legislative acts.  On page 9 of the Judicial Application Supplement Rebecca writes:  “…I respect the structure of government and the role circuit court judges have in interpreting and applying, rather than creating, laws.  I have seen numerous instances in which judges deviated from the law—sometimes inadvertently, sometimes unabashedly.  Such deviation undermines our representative democracy, and I am motivated to become a judge, in part, to protect against this.” (Was St. John referring to Judge Sumi’s and/or Judge Colas’ decision?)


On page 10 Rebecca writes in the last paragraph expressing why she believes State v. Dimitri Henley was one of the best decisions decided in the last 30 years:  “Henley is important because the supreme court recognized there are limits to a court’s inherent power to apply their own notions of fairness whenever it wants, and therefore conversely affirms the legislature’s proper authority to construct and limit the mechanisms by which the judiciary appropriately exercise it’s power.  With such affirmation, Henley not only advances the separation of powers and the rule of law, it also enhances finality and predictability.”  (Emphasis added).


Justice Michael Gableman wrote for the majority in Henley, and Justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote the dissenting opinion (meaning she and the other two justices disagreed with the majority).  St. John thinks this is the best decision made in the last 30 years?  A decision made by the conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court who found that the powers of the judiciary come from the legislature and not the Constitution!  Justice Abrahamson was right in dissenting on the ground that the judiciary’s power comes from the Constitution-that it is an equal branch of our government.  (On a later motion to reconsider involving the same case, the conservative majority also found that Justice Roggensack didn’t have to recuse herself, that doing so was her sole responsibility and that a majority of the  Supreme Court does not have the power to disqualify a judicial peer from performing constitutional functions.) 


Conversely, what was the worst case that St. John believes was decided in the last 30 years?  State v. Wisconsin v. Ralph Armstrong – written By Justice Abrahamson and dissented by Justice Roggensack .  St. John writes that Armstrong was one of the worst decisions because the Wisconsin “supreme court reasoned that it had ‘inherent authority’ to reverse Armstrong’s conviction, regardless of statutory limitations…”


You can see by her statements that St. John sides with the conservatives on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.


On page 11 Rebecca writes:  “…the legislature is to be accorded a significant deference with respect to the constitutionality of its laws.  According to the supreme court, all laws are to be sustained against a constitutional challenge unless they are unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt.  Too often, circuit court judges pay merely lip service to this standard.  Yet to preserve our representative democracy, it is essential that circuit courts apply this deference.” 


These views trouble me because they indicate to me that St. John would not have stopped the implementation of the Voter ID bill as Judge Colas did.  I support Judge Colas’ decision which is based upon the law.  Using this high standard that St. John expresses-- there is no balance of powers where one branch keeps the others in check and vice versa– merely a separation of powers.  Rather than a balance of powers, she gives deference to the legislature.  This is contrary to the concept that courts could nullify legislative acts which has existed in the United States since the 1803 decision of Marbury v. Madison


We need Dane County judges who will stand up for the people’s constitutional rights such as their right to vote and their right to speak and to assemble.  It appears that Rebecca St. John will not overturn overreaching by our state legislature because she believes the separation of powers prevents her from doing so.  She believes the legislature has greater powers than the judiciary, that the legislature has the “proper authority” to limit the powers of the judiciary and that the judiciary needs to defer to the legislature. (see her quotes above).


Rebecca has many endorsements from progressives.  I suspect when they were asked to endorse, they didn’t know Rebecca’s background and didn’t read this application for appointment to the bench by Governor Walker.  How could they support someone who decidedly is in the camp of the conservatives on the Wisconsin Supreme Court?


Now that they have the opportunity, will these progressives stop endorsing her?  For some, once a decision is made, no matter what evidence is given to the contrary, the decision is steadfast.  In college I learned this is a phenomena referred to as cognitive dissonance.  For other progressive endorsers, they may not want to appear as “flip-floppers.”  For others, their endorsement came because they knew another endorser, not the candidate, and they don’t want to offend their friend.


It doesn’t matter in the end.  What matters is what YOU think and that you are fully informed before you decide which candidate you will vote for and who you will support.


I am supporting Rhonda Lanford for judge also because she has a stellar record (AV® rated by Martindale-Hubbell (“preeminent” status); Selected a 2012 Superlawyer byWisconsin Law & Politics; Top 50 lawyer in the State of Wisconsin; Top 25 female lawyer in the State of Wisconsin; Top 25 Lawyer in Madison, Wisconsin (2nd year in a row)  see more at: www.lanfordforjudge.com ).


I encourage you to attend forums and meet and greets. There is a forum of the two candidates on Wednesday, February 6 at 6pm at the Sun Prairie Library. 


Ask the tough questions.  And don’t stifle anyone who has facts that may be negative against a candidate.  This is not a negative attack.  I am merely providing negative facts—that is, negative if you are seeking the votes from progressives.  If you’re a conservative, these are positive facts.  They are just facts.


Please be informed and vote!


Bev Jambois

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  • Dan McClain
    commented 2013-03-14 16:40:52 -0500
    Beverly, I’m still trying to decide who to vote for for Dane County Circuit Court Judge. It’s nice to see this from you on WGN come up on the fist page of a Google search. I have to say though that for something that is “fact filled” there is a lot of conjecture here. The quotes from St John above may be accurate, but to say that based on those she is a “conservative” is absurd and it’s the kind of thing I have been seeing from Lanford’s campaign and supporters, which tends to push me in the other direction. I do much prefer to deal in facts. Can you site any decisions St John has handed down from the bench that you can find fault with?