- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A longtime Wisconsin Supreme Court justice and her challenger for re-election continued to spar Tuesday over partisan influences two weeks ahead of an election that will determine which of them gets a 10-year term on the state’s highest court.

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley and Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley met at a candidate forum hosted by the Dane County Bar Association in advance of the April 7 election. The race is officially nonpartisan, but like other contests for the Supreme Court in recent years, support for the candidates is breaking down largely along partisan lines.

Daley accepted a $7,000 in-kind contribution from the Wisconsin Republican Party and is speaking at GOP events around the state. Daley said he wasn’t going to apologize for the contribution, noting that it is allowed under the law.

“This campaign is not about a certain in-kind donation to my campaign,” Daley said. “The claim has been that by accepting that donation I, of course, am saying that I am supporting everything the Republican Party of Wisconsin does. Not true.”

Bradley, who has been a member of the court for 20 years and is seeking a third 10-year term, said she and Daley have different visions for how courts should operate.

“I have a vision for our court system where political parties are not having undue input on nonpartisan races,” Bradley said. “I need and want the votes of Republicans, Democrats, independents and everyone in between. But I strongly believe political parties should stay out of judicial races.”

Daley, a circuit court judge for 26 years, pointed out that Bradley has accepted donations from a variety of labor unions that have traditionally sided with Democrats, including the AFL-CIO and AFSCME.

“Justice Bradley’s real complaint is that she objects to the special interest groups that don’t support her,” Daley said. He accused Bradley of being at the center of a “dysfunctional” court.

Bradley called the race a “watershed” moment that could change the look of the court for decades both because her seat was under attack by conservatives and because her frequent ally, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, may lose her title.

A constitutional amendment placed on the ballot by the Republican-controlled Legislature would leave selecting the chief justice up to the seven justices, rather have it go to the most senior member of the court as it has for the past 126 years.

Democrats say it’s a thinly veiled attempt to remove Abrahamson from her post she’s held since 1996. She and Bradley frequently side together on cases and are considered the two most liberal members of the court that’s currently controlled by conservatives.

Daley supports the amendment and contends it makes sense to change the chief justice selection process, noting that only five states use the seniority method. He questioned the motives of Bradley, who is second in seniority to Abrahamson, for opposing it.

“Is this about democracy or is this about a personal agenda wishing to go to that big seat in the middle of the bench?” Daley said.

Bradley and Daley answered questions written in advance anonymously by members of the association. Several judges were in attendance. They are scheduled to meet again Wednesday at a similar forum organized by the Rotary Club of Madison and then appear at a live, statewide debate Friday night hosted by Wisconsin Public Television.

State elections officials predict a 20 percent turnout for the election.

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP


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