- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson, in her most detailed and lengthy argument to date, said in a court filing Tuesday that her colleagues on the court have no legal authority to remove her from the leadership post she’s held the past 19 years, and that her re-election win was a “mandate” to keep the title.

Abrahamson, 81, is fighting in federal court over whether a voter-approved constitutional amendment giving justices on the court the power to select who serves as chief justice can be implemented immediately or until her term ends in four years.

The fight over who is chief justice is the latest public skirmish on the ideologically divided court where Abrahamson is in the liberal minority. Justices have clashed on numerous issues in recent years as conservatives grew a four-justice majority and the Republican-controlled Legislature put the amendment before voters that gave justices the power to remove Abrahamson.

Four conservative justices voted last month to replace Abrahamson as chief justice with Justice Patience Roggensack, even as the lawsuit was pending. Abrahamson believes that she remains chief justice despite the vote.

In court filings made Monday and Tuesday, Abrahamson fleshed out her argument that her constitutional rights would be violated if she were demoted to a justice - losing $8,000 in salary - before her current term ends in 2019.

Abrahamson said that it was her understanding, and the understanding of voters, that if re-elected in 2009 she would continue serving uninterrupted as chief justice. She delineated all the duties of the chief justice, along with numerous initiatives she’s spearheaded since 1996.

“I am a staunch proponent of a fair, impartial, neutral and non-partisan judiciary to achieve the ideal of justice,” Abrahamson said in the filing. “I chose to run for re-election in 2009 to complete the work I had started as Chief Justice and to carry on my work as Chief Justice on behalf of the people of Wisconsin. … I regarded my re-election with 59.67 percent of the vote as a mandate to continue the work I have devoted myself to for almost 19 years as Chief Justice.”

Abrahamson’s filings come after fellow liberal Justice Ann Walsh Bradley told the judge that the Wisconsin court system is in a “state of upheaval” because of uncertainty over who is chief justice. The chief justice, in addition to presiding over the state Supreme Court, is also the top administrator of the entire state court system.

Justice Patrick Crooks, who along with Bradley and Abrahamson did not vote to make Roggensack chief, sent a letter to the judge on Monday saying the court is in “turmoil.” He called on U.S. District Judge James Peterson to come up with a transitional plan, if Roggensack is to replace Abrahamson, “to address the chaotic situation that exists.”

Peterson has a hearing scheduled for May 15 on Abrahamson’s lawsuit asking the judge to block enforcement or implementation of the constitutional amendment. Five of the six other justices - all except Bradley - are seeking dismissal of the case.

Roggensack has said there is no doubt that she’s chief justice, and she wants to work on building consensus on the fractured court. Roggensack’s attorney had no comment Tuesday.

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

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