The Mystery of Rebecca Bradley
Who exactly is she? And why didn’t Walker vet his choice for Supreme Court?
The enigma that is Rebecca Bradley begins with the first public sighting of her, when her name was still Grassl and the 15-year-old wrote a angry, heartfelt letter published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It was 1986 and her father had recently been terminated from his position as purchasing manager at a Milwaukee company, and her letter asked: “How far does suffering and hardship have to go before it destroys a person? How much hell does a person have to go through before it ends?”
The hell her father was going through included “endless negative responses to job applications from various companies…My parents must now find other means to support two children in college, one in private high school, and another ready to get married and start a new life.”
Faced with this situation who did young Rebecca blame?: “unjust” employers, yes, but she also noted the lack of aid from government for her family, and slapped Democratic Gov. Tony Earl for saying “Wisconsin is conquering unemployment.”
Five years later, Grassl’s anger flashed again. Serving as a senator on Marquette’s student government, “Bradley slammed down her nameplate and threatened to resign during a discussion of whether the university should add a multicultural course requirement,” as Scott Bauer of the Associated Press reported.
A year later, Grassl’s anger flashed again at Democrats. As One Wisconsin Now documented, she wrote to Marquette’s student newspaper that Americans were “either totally stupid or entirely evil” for electing President Bill Clinton.”Either you condone drug use, homosexuality, AIDS-producing sex, adultery and murder and are therefore a bad person, or you didn’t know that he supports abortion on demand and socialism, which means you are dumb,” Grassl wrote.
She also condemned gay people as “queers” who engage in “abnormal sex” that leads to AIDS and “degenerates who basically commit suicide through their behavior.”
Bradley has issued an apology for her statements, saying they “are not reflective of my worldview,” without explaining how or when her views changed.
Bradley, after all, was never very involved in politics. Her degree from MU, received in 1993, was in Business Administration and Business Economics. She got her law degree from UW-Madison in 1996, and during that time was an “extern” with conservative Judge John L. Coffey. After graduation, she served a few years with Hinshaw & Culbertson mostly representing physicians and lawyers in malpractice cases.
Then came 12 years immersed in business: She served four years at – Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek handling Commercial and Information Technology Litigation and Transactions, followed by three years as corporate counsel at Red Prairie Corp and then five years at Whyte Hirschboeck handling Commercial, Technology and Intellectual Property Transactions and Litigation. Her list of publications and speeches during this time almost all involved e-commerce, internet law, data security and other highly technical matters.
Amid this intense focus on technical business issues, it seems unlikely Bradley was discussing politics much with colleagues. Did her personal life lead her to change her views?
Rebecca Bradley had met J. Andrew Bednall, the chief operating officer of Whyte Hirschboeck after she was hired there in February 2000, and the two began a romantic relationship that Bradley has said they broke off in November 2002, though they continued to date each other non-exclusively. In November 2003, Bednall left the firm, according to court documents and Bradley left two months later, but her attorney told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel their departures were unrelated to the relationship.
The newspaper’s story called this an “extra-marital affair,” while Gordon Bradley has claimed he was then separated from his wife, without providing any dates.
Did these experiences soften Bradley’s hard-and-fast moral lines? It seems not. In 2006, she wrote a column supporting a proposal that would have allowed pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for contraceptives based on their religious beliefs. Opponents, she argued, elevated “women’s convenience over pharmacists’ objections to being a party to murder” — the “murder” by contraceptives that “may cause the death of a conceived, unborn child by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus.” She still seemed the angry conservative and a position calling birth control murder was hardly mainstream.
Meantime Bradley had joined the conservative legal group, the Federalist Society, and the Republican National Lawyers Association. Still, she doesn’t show up as a donor to any politicians, until March 2012, when she donated $250 to Walker. Nine months later he appointed her to vacant Milwaukee County Circuit Court position.
What led him to choose Bradley? Bauer theorizes that it was Jim Villa, a longtime Walker loyalist and his chief of staff for five years, who remembered Bradley, who served in student government at Marquette with Villa. But Villa denies having suggested the judicial appointment to Walker.
Another possibility is that Bradley got to know the Walker family as a neighbor. In 2006, as my colleague Michael Horne has reported, Bradley bought a home just ten doors down from Walker’s home. The purchase by Bradley is a head scratcher. She already had a a 1,218 square foot, two-story, 2 bedroom condo on Milwaukee’s Lower East Side, and was single. Yet she bought a second home, a 3,464 square foot, 9-room Colonial Revival in Wauwatosa. When asked why, Bradley’s spokesperson Luke Mertz did not respond.
One Republican insider tells me it was Tonette Walker who pushed for Bradley’s appointment. The same source says it was attorney Tracey Klein of Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren who promoted Bradley to both Tonette and conservative radio host Charlie Sykes, who’s been a big supporter of Bradley. Klein and her husband Rick Klein of Aurora Health Care have been big donors to Walker and the governor recently appointed Tracey Klein to the UW Board of Regents.
Klein, however, tells me she only met Bradley briefly on two occasions: “She came to our firm for a meet and greet, as do many judicial candidates. Afterward I gave her a modest contribution.” Sykes, meanwhile, responded via email to say he “never spoke to Tracey about RB.”
All of which, if true, leaves the question, why was Walker so high on Bradley that he three times appointed her to a vacant position, first to circuit court, then state Court of Appeals, and then the Wisconsin Supreme Court? He was so confident of her that his staff apparently never vetted her to check her record at Marquette University — despite all the problems Walker himself has faced over his run for student government and later withdrawal from MU without getting a degree.
Bradley, it seems, is very good at promoting herself. Despite the connection to Walker, she was able to gain the support of some Democrats, as I wrote back in March 2013. Her Milwaukee address might have helped in giving the impression of her as an urbanite (just as the Tosa address near Walker might have helped her with Republicans). Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele endorsed Bradley for circuit court, saying “she is compassionate about people and is making a positive impact on our community in Children’s Court.” I’m told they became good friends after that, but when asked to comment about this, his campaign spokesperson Tia Torhorst said Abele “was as shocked and offended by Justice Bradley’s writings as everyone else,” adding that “Chris has been an active supporter and leader on LGBTQ issues.”
Meantime, even as Bradley courted Democrats, the Republican insider tells me she became very friendly with longtime Walker campaign strategist R. J. Johnson, who’s also been a consultant for the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which spent heavily on ads supporting Bradley in her run for Circuit Court.
When asked if he would have appointed Bradley had he known of her student writings, the governor offered a non-answer to Bauer, saying “It’s really irrelevant,” and adding a tepid sounding-endorsement: “it’s right now up to the voters.”
At this point no one seems to want to acknowledge promoting Bradley, and she herself has done everything to distance herself from her prior statements. But if she’s not the person she once was, who exactly is she now and how has she changed? Having now reviewed her entire history, I have no idea.