Monday, October 12, 2015


By Dominique Paul Noth

Wis State Journal (John Hart
photo) caught Bradley's
look as Walker introduced
her as his choice.
Everyone knew which other shoe, or high heel, Scott Walker was going to drop when respected Supreme  Court Justice N. Patrick Crooks, whose 10-year seat was up for voters to decide next April, had the temerity to die in office just as Walker wanted sole media attention to his withdrawal from the presidential race.

On hearing the Sept. 21 news Walker gave cursory official sorrow as he announced his own withdrawal and then stepped in to tell the electorate how to decide on a court replacement. 

With only a few months to go in the current court session, with the outcome of cases affecting the governor’s supporters already safely in conservative hands with a 4-2 majority – particularly a prosecutorial request to revive the John Doe process – he still felt  compelled to tilt the public vote to the least qualified candidate. 

Could it have anything to do with reviving his political fortunes in a state angry at being left a sloppy two-year budget and generally abandoned during his fruitless run for the White House? That eight months was certainly much longer than the court term he said had to be immediately filled. 

Geske discusses with Gousha the unhappy
partisan nature of court choices today.
As first step, fooling no one, Walker said he would spread a wide quality net for the interim selection to the high court.  Untrue, since this state is loaded not just  with qualified candidates but THREE former justices chosen from both sides of the aisle – Jon Wilcox and Louis Butler for two, and professor and restorative justice leader Janine Geske, once an easy choice to fill the county exec vacancy ahead of Walker’s election and even an easier choice as interim Marquette law dean. (At least Channel 12 reporter Mike Gousha was attuned enough to interview Geske about how the high court vacancy should be handled and drew some gentle remarks about the growingly unpleasant partisanship.) 

The most experienced and earliest announced candidates for Crooks’ seat, Milwaukee Circuit Judge Joe Donald and Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, refused to apply, saying that call should be the people’s.  The third candidate –  coaxed to enter the race despite her limited bench experience – did apply and she was clearly going to get it, given Walker’s track record of personal favoritism to her and the money wielding Club for Growth. 

But for  show,  the Walker ranch had to stake out a Judas goat or two so the grazing would seem competitive. Madison corporate lawyer  Claude Covelli helped by applying for a seat he long wanted and had no chance of getting. Reportedly after a phone call so did longtime Walker legal ally Jim Troupis, whose service  to the monied interests had already won him appointment by Walker to a Dane County court seat where he’s already told the press he won’t face the voters next summer.   

Camouflage over, in a lavish press conference October 9, Walker revealed the obvious -- he would appoint  the least experienced candidate but a personal favorite, Rebecca Bradley. She can now flaunt a “Justice” title as she campaigns against more deeply experienced opponents free of  partisan taint, Donald and Kloppenburg.

As one veteran jurist told me in an email, “I don't think the Guv is strong on that independent judiciary thing.”

The Wisconsin press – always impressed by the bully power of the governor -- immediately said Bradley now had the inside edge.  That was even in the lead paragraph of the announcement report in the formerly independent, then Scripps, now Gannett chain newspaper known as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 

Clearer heads in all camps don’t agree.

“Dangerous choice,” said a GOP senator. “She’s the answer to our prayers,” said a leader of the progressive One Wisconsin Now.   An independent consultant told me, “If you want to focus your anger at Walker’s tactics and his evasiveness, he just cleared the underbrush.”

Many other politicos think such negatives outweigh the positives. Voters who want to cast a vote against Walker now have a statewide target: Rebecca Bradley, not to be confused with the real justice Bradley named Ann, who just won election last year.

It’s not just that Walker’s favorable ratings have dropped to 37% even in the polls he likes. It’s also how many of his choices for office and staff have landed in prison, legal trouble, newspaper headlines and/or resignation.  Even people who once liked some of his views are troubled by his methods. The Bradley incursion is just the latest example they cite.

The two qualified candidates for the high court
include Milwaukee's Joe Donald.
Frankly, progressives think they have a great chance to start taking back the state in the fall of 2016 with legislative contests. But they’ve been worried about these April elections, given the historic low interest, low turnout and higher financial organization of the right wing, which has often used April to solidify their hold on secondary offices. Judicial contests and local elections spread over 72 counties, many labeled nonpartisan, fail to excite either the press or the electorate. 

Voters may rail about Walker, but they don’t have a direct shot at him until 2018, if he tries to run again, and may never if he exits office before his term expires, leaving them trying to scoop a Kleefisch out of their soup. And there was no clear way to voice disapproval in April.

Until Bradley. Now he’s tied her to him, demonstrating precisely the kind of interference and distrust of voters his take-no-prisoners manner represents at its worst.

Nor is the state high court any longer minor news voters can ignore. Walker’s flirtation in the national spotlight took care of that. There has been an outbreak of major stories in and out of Wisconsin detailing “The Destruction of the Wisconsin Supreme Court" as one New Yorker magazine piece called it:  financial corruption, political intrusion from the right and spitting matches  over who should be called chief justice.  Add those events to the other complaints about the current administration and you can see how Walker’s warm embrace is hardly what any statewide candidate wants right now. 

Other prestigious publications have also put both Walker’s style and the high court story front and center – and that was before the tampering with the civil service law and the tampering with the  independent election and ethics monitoring agency and before trying to stack the results with Bradley, which all strike many as partisan corruption cut out of the same biased cloth.

“It’s always been hard to make the courts an issue for the voters,” said a New York City journalist who covers national legal affairs, “but not now when Wisconsin politicians keep making their high court a universal laughingstock.”

Also eminently qualified: JoAnne Kloppenburg
Then there’s what  Crooks represented on the court and Bradley doesn’t, as movingly illuminated online in a tribute by former clerk and noted legal scholar Melissa L. Greipp.

A hearty Irishman with the common touch, Crooks was the quietest, least headline-making and friendliest of the state justices, often voting with the conservative block but also flashing his independence at key moments, such as criticizing the political fawning John Doe outcome. His dissent will likely live longer in lawbooks than the court’s ruling.

While a  conservative majority remains intact without a new Bradley vehicle, Crooks in stark contrast could sometimes mean to the Wisconsin court what Anthony Kennedy means to the US Supreme Court, the swing vote that can be moved by independence, heart and analysis.

In ideological terms at least, a swinger Bradley is not.  She made her mark not on the bench but in conservative social circles as an outspoken member of the Republicans’ lawyer association and president of the Milwaukee chapter of the conservative Federalist Society.

She herself must realize that Walker’s endorsement is double-edged,  stating her belief that voters won’t pay attention to who appointed whom but “look at their record on the bench.”  But if they do, she’s really dead in the water.

Until 2012 she was in private practice as in-house counsel for a software company or  defending corporate clients.  Something in her style or rich acquaintances brought her to Walker’s attention.  Despite three separate seats on state courts, she has only faced the voters once because of this friendship. 

Even that "once" was quite a close shave. Walker appointed her in 2012  to a Milwaukee circuit court vacancy but in 2013 she  was facing a formidable field,  including a top-rated assistant DA, Janet Prostasiewicz,  who had once been on Walker’s own short list  – and it took an enormous influx  of Wisconsin Club for Growth money ($167,000, virtually unprecedented in a local race) to survive. (Prostasiewicz the following year with another opening ran away with the votes and is now also a judge.)

Walker elevated Bradley last May after Judge Ralph Adam Fine’s death to the vacancy on the First District Court of Appeals (voters won’t have a say on this seat until 2018). She had barely gotten her robes wet before he elevated her to the Supremes. 

Conservative allies believe her charm and affable manner will carry her through (though one conservative and supposed ally cattily remarked to me she now needed success “deeper than the cocktail party circuit”).  It was a recognition of how seldom the voters have endorsed her advances.

Crooks’ legions of friends who attended his funeral were blunter, calling her appointment “a travesty on his memory.” They were looking forward to a robust judicial debate between Donald and Kloppenburg, who both have strong centers of support (hers Southwest Wisconsin, his Southeast)and yards of bench experience.

That may still happen.  Conservatives were desperate for Bradley’s entry because that forces a February 16 primary and an expectation that votes will split  between the more balanced Donald and Kloppenburg and leave her to face only one of them April 5. If voters are exorcised enough, though, the Bradley juggernaut could be gone by February. 

There may be yet another reason for Walker’s unnecessary push to lock down a fifth vote on the seven-member court. His hold could vanish over time and federal law could be closing in. Consider that the two justices most obedient to big money and counted on for their  self-serving votes face re-election while Walker still could be governor – Annette Ziegler in 2017 (who needed $2.6 million from Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufactures & Commerce to win) and Michael Gableman in 2018 ($2.3 million). His campaign against Butler was the ugliest and most misguided in memory

Joe Donald vs. JoAnne Kloppenburg will be interesting in any event.  She has a strong following among those who feel she was robbed of a seat on the high court in 2011 when she was beating David Prosser by a few hundred votes until Waukesha election clerk Kathy Nickolaus “found” some 14,700 “mislaid” votes after the election, giving Prosser a 7,000 margin re-election. Voters in southwestern Wisconsin promptly made amends, rewarding Kloppenburg with unopposed election in 2012 to the District IV appeals court, where she is presiding judge.

Donald is the clear choice of the influential Milwaukee legal community and county voters who backed him four times unopposed. He has nearly 20 dynamic years serving almost all branches of the circuit court from presiding judge in children’s court to active criminal court duties as well as being an influential voice in community affairs.  Praised by both prosecutors and defense attorneys for his knowledge of the law and fairness, he also is a leader in something both conservatives (Koch brothers) and progressives like – the drug treatment court, which seeks to handle nonviolent offenders in a rehabilitative way that is also far less costly than prison.

With her time in the Peace Corps and years in the  Attorney General’s office before the appeals court,  with his experience as assistant DA and judge throughout all levels of branch interaction with the public, that would be a debate the public would like hearing – unless Rebecca of Sunny Walker Farm gets in the way.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


By Dominique Paul Noth

There has seldom been as misleadingly backwards a headline as Journal Sentinel’s Page One Oct. 6 about the legislative effort to gut the state’s successful civil service system – Civil Service Overhaul Has Momentum Going Into First Hearing.  Momentum? The majority of the story quoted experts contrasting the close-minded right-wing rush for approval with the reality that the overhaul is unsavory, unnecessary and politically motivated.   

Steve Nass and Scott Walker, twin faces of a new failure
“Momentum” could only have been used to mean that, despite the facts, the bill is likely to fly through the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate, which has spent five years demonstrating the GOP majority is replete with ignoramuses.

Their policies haven’t and can’t improve the hiring, fiscal or education records of the state, but they remain stubborn self-obsessed bill writers protecting their own political battiness for the remaining years the citizens allow them to stay in office.  (An Oct. 6 ploy in that vein led committee GOP chair Sen. Steve Nass to call a two-hour lunch break to disrupt convenient testimony times for state workers – never let the facts get in the way of the rush.)

The actual force inside that  JS story comes from a veteran of the civil service system who once only had those rules and his integrity to fight an effort by the Doyle administration (more precisely, cabinet secretary Frank Busalacchi) to sideline him -- Jim Thiel, a former management attorney within the state Department of Transportation who was able to win his position back thanks to civil service regulations that are about to vanish.

Argue all you want about Act 10 and how it made average citizens feel like big brave lumberjacks chopping down the health benefits and pensions earned by their servants, but then talk today to Republican-dominated school districts and municipalities crippled by Act 10 rules, losing or paying even more for good teachers, and longing for the old days of collective bargaining. 

Add in right to work rules – which the private sector is now realizing is indeed the right to work “for less” and could soon make “shoddy” the word attached to the Wisconsin label rather than the “Union Made” attached to Scott Walker’s Harley. When you put low wages ahead of quality, you don’t have to worry about China and India stealing the good jobs, you’re doing it to yourself.

Mix in efforts to prevent John Doe prosecutors from specifically investigating politicians and their money-raising tricks (a weird suggestion that bank robbers should be pursued more vigorously than public white collar fraudsters). Weigh this legislative-led systemic catering to business cronies, questionable use of taxpayer money at WEDC and violations of the common-sense rules of integrity required in the free market.

And now comes civil service, created in 1905, upgraded often since but hardly perfect (what system private or public is?).  But one thing it has done has been to block political nepotism and backroom corruption and elevate integrity in public service --  by requiring applicants for 30,000 jobs to generally be tested through exams on their knowledge and ability and to be subject to a series of rules about staying or rising in government employment.

(It should not escape notice that the revolving door shenanigans at WEDC -- the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation -- that made headlines about wasted money took place largely because Walker lifted the civil service standards for hiring when he created that agency.)

As antiquated as the legislators are trying to make the system sound, many retired civil service workers reminded me how often they were able to update the process,  make exams  more applicable to their modernizing  job descriptions, speak out for meaningful upgrades, willingly repeated four-hour tests and felt strongly engaged in public service because of the rules.

The farce of this new bill is that such protections will be eliminated amid claims they are kept! All this is, the sponsors say, a modern response to the time it takes to evaluate workers and a recognition that baby boomers are aging out of the jobs.  Neither the comfort of speed nor the disadvantage of aging would normally be a sufficient reason to gut a working system, but here come the smoke and mirrors.

Sen. Roth seems not to
understand his own bill.
“Nothing in my bill will lead us back to the days of political patronage," insists the lead sponsor of S285, Sen. Roger Roth (R-Appleton) – which either means he’s lying or can’t read his own proposal. 

First and most obvious, it eliminates the civil service exams and replaces them with a resume-based hiring and merit process. That brings hoots of laughter from every respected institution of academic learning that knows what a variety of individuals live behind each degree they give out, and larger hoots from practiced managers in public and private business who know how inventive resume writing has become in the Internet age.

That includes me, who has mastered multiple Word templates on resume presentation and helped hundreds work on them. While known as a professional journalist and reviewer, I have actually managed several large staffs,  taught at  two universities, run national seminars and been pestered for resume help by a large family and even larger circle of their graduating friends.  

I regard myself as painfully honest, but I also fudge.  A good actor may have done an exceptional Puck from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in a university class, so I might suggest beefing up a thin resume with “Puck . . .  Shakespeare . . .  Milwaukee.”  A fine writer who was a struggling stringer at the Appleton Post-Crescent or St. Louis Post Dispatch might find “Reporter . . .  Appleton Post-Crescent” approved by my signature. I know college chemistry and engineering teachers who have played the same sense of favoritism for proven value toward responsible students asking for job recommendations.

But in truth, as a manager, I knew a high-sounding resume  -- chockful of degrees and important names --  is at best only the basis for an interview, not a hiring. What idiot would base government hiring on that?  Oh, this idiot state. 

Actual exams, hard tests and so forth will always prove the more winning way to demonstrate ability and integrity.  But Wisconsin legislators can’t abide such independence and want to eliminate it.  As Scott Ross of One Wisconsin Now has commented, “A very clear message is being sent to state employees: Put the political considerations of this administration before the needs of the taxpayers of the state of Wisconsin."

Scott Ross reveals real warning within legislation.
And if the state employees don’t get that message, the legislature is doubling down with new absolutist firing provisions of “just cause”  along with the elimination of “bumping rights” or seniority of experience in changing jobs within the system.

Now, private or public sector, every capable manager has had a good worker who because of privacy concerns or family problems might miss a few days of work and still be worth a second chance. You, dear reader, may be one of those.  Or the guy who was still drunk a day after the Brewers game and when properly chastised is worth keeping.  But not if you have a bootlicker manager hurrying to fawn over “just cause” for his politically motivated boss.

Many municipal managers confessed in interviews recently they regret that Act 10 cost them good union stewards who were their best line of defense on record keeping and helping them turn around (or get rid of) lax employees. As one public official told me, “These stewards fought to get those rights and they are damned if they’ll let any bad employee abuse them – but they also knew how to respond to a human situation.”

But now, in the interest of standing firm for arbitrary personal favorites, not public best, the legislators would make the standards for job loss legally aloof, unbending and automatic, allowing – and actually encouraging -- managers to pluck out those absentees, free thinkers or individuals they ideologically dislike.  It is the ultimate in putting nepotism, cronyism, corruption and political favoritism ahead of integrity and individuality.

The bill uses more smoke and mirrors to disguise this – a two year probationary period for hires rather than six months, which allows smart incompetents to linger, I guess, or gives managers longer to uncover a worker from the opposite political side to find an excuse to fire.  Then there is the “ban the box” idea, popular in progressive legislation so that previous prison convictions that have nothing to do with the job don’t have to be included. But that’s a tiny bone that would have some meat if it also required an exam not a resume.

Walker’s campaign for president flopped in large part because the public in other states picked up and flatly rejected the poseur image he is still hung up on, especially his lording it over union workers. He and Chris Christie failed to make a dent in the polls with that. So now he’s back sticking his nose in state bills and letting  if not leading the next step in abusing worker rights,  this civil service nonsense – silly as it looks.

That just confirms Wisconsin as the nation’s lonely Freedonia among 50 states.  And will remain so until we stop playing Margaret Dumont to the Marx Brothers. 

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for