- Associated Press - Monday, October 12, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Rebecca Bradley, whose first day as a justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court was Monday, registered a website domain name identifying her as a justice even before applications were due for the interim position she was appointed to.

Bradley was widely - and accurately - seen as the favorite to be appointed by Gov. Scott Walker to fill out the final nine months of Justice Pat Crooks’ term; Crooks died last month. Walker had twice selected Bradley for judicial openings previously and her candidacy for a full 10-year high court term had the conservatives’ backing.

Her nine-month appointment gives her the advantage of incumbency as she runs for a full 10-year term on the court in the April 5 election. She faces 4th District Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg and Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joe Donald - neither of whom applied for the Supreme Court appointment.

Bradley campaign spokeswoman Madison Wiberg said the website domain name of “justicerebeccabradley.com” was reserved a day before the Oct. 2 application deadline by a vendor “in anticipation of the application process.”

One of Bradley’s opponents said the early registration raises serious concerns.

“It calls into question what should have been an open, fair process that would maintain an independent judiciary,” said Melissa Mulliken, campaign manager for Kloppenburg. “Instead, it gives the appearance of the kind of cronyism that has defined Scott Walker’s administration.”

Donald’s campaign spokesman, Garren Randolph, said in an email to The Associated Press: “Is anyone surprised?”

Claude Covelli, a Madison attorney who sought the appointment but lost out to Bradley, said it appears that Walker may have instigated a “sham application process.” Covelli said he is considering running against Bradley for a full 10-year term.

Walker’s spokeswoman Laurel Patrick called Covelli’s claims “absolutely false” and reiterated that Walker followed the typical process he does for all judicial appointments.

Liberal group One Wisconsin Now has been one of the loudest critics of Walker appointing Bradley, an announced full-term candidate, to the vacancy. The group’s executive director, Scot Ross, said the domain name registration “is further proof the fix was in from the start.”

“Her appointment is about one thing, letting Bradley and the special interests who will spend on her behalf put the words ‘Supreme Court Justice’ in their ads,” Ross said.

Bradley announced her campaign for the full 10-year term Sept. 17, four days before Crooks died. At the time, Bradley was a 1st District Appeals Court judge, a position she held since being appointed by Walker in May.

Walker announced Sept. 28 that he was seeking applicants for the seat with an Oct. 2 deadline to apply.

Bradley did not announce that she had applied for the appointment until the day of the deadline, and Walker introduced her as his pick a week later. He said then she was the best of the three applicants and that her appointment should not be a factor in voters’ minds on April 5 when deciding whether she should get a full term.

Clicks on her old campaign website of judgerebeccabradley.com now take viewers to the new address where there is a picture of her and the words “Meet Justice Rebecca Bradley.” Her campaign logo also prominently incorporates the title before her name.

Chief Justice Pat Roggensack swore Bradley into office Monday morning. She participated in oral arguments, but did not make any statements or ask questions during the first case dealing with whether to suspend the law license of well-known Milwaukee criminal defense attorney Gerald Boyle.

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

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