Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

A Right-Wing War In High Court Race

It's getting nasty: Mark Belling blasts candidate Kelly and Justice Bradley attacks candidate Dorow and Belling.

By - Jan 30th, 2023 05:59 pm
Wisconsin Supreme Court. Photo by Mariiana Tzotcheva.

Wisconsin Supreme Court. Photo by Mariiana Tzotcheva.

The all-important Wisconsin Supreme Court race has displayed no rancor between the two liberal candidates, Janet Protasiewicz and Everett Mitchell, but a division between the two conservatives, Dan Kelly and Jennifer Dorow is getting increasingly nasty.

Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly. File photo by Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly. File photo by Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Kelly, who was appointed to the state Supreme Court in 2016 but lost his bid for election in 2020, had entered the race for an open court seat in September and didn’t take kindly to a second conservative, Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Dorow, entering months later. “I’m struggling to think of any other reason that she would believe she would be a qualified candidate for the Supreme Court.” Kelly told an Associated Press reporter, accusing Dorow of taking advantage of the national publicity she got for presiding over the trial of Darrell Brooks.

Veteran conservative talk radio host Mark Belling soon joined the fray, writing an extraordinary column for the Waukesha Freeman charging that Kelly, like Donald Trump is simply running to regain his old job and seems “mostly motivated to avenge an unfair defeat.”

Belling charged that Kelly’s campaign “has no enthusiasm and many conservatives are instead embracing… Dorow,” who he compared to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, calling her the “now” candidate. versus has-beens like Trump and Kelly.

“Kelly is sputtering,” Belling went on. “His campaign manager, Alex Walker (Scott’s son), has quit. Other conservatives are already frosted that Kelly supporters are trying to plant anti-Dorow stories in the media. During the recent period for circulating nominating petitions, Kelly struggled to find volunteers to go out and solicit signatures and turned in only a few hundred over the minimum requirement.”

“Dorow’s campaign is organic and filled with enthusiasm. Kelly’s campaign is soulless dud consisting of generic national PAC dollars,” Belling charged. “Kelly should get out of the race now. The alternative is to, in desperation, use his PAC money donations to slime Dorow and pave the way for a liberal to win the general election.”

If it has been followers of Kelly planting anti-Dorow stories, they are doing a very good job. On November 30, the day after Dorow entered the race, Dan Bice did a column reporting on Dorow’s past opposition to cash bail, and noted that “Conservatives dropped millions of dollars on TV ads criticizing Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes in this year’s U.S. Senate race for his opposition to cash bail for defendants awaiting trial.” Bice also quoted Belling criticizing Dorow in 2021, saying “she has consistently defended the lenient bail decisions made by court commissioners.”

And on January 26, Bice did a column reporting suspicions that Dorow’s son might have supplied fentanyl to Cade Reddington, an 18-year-old UW-Milwaukee freshman who died of fentanyl poisoning on Nov. 4, 2021. That seemed a low blow to Wisconsin Right Now, which did a story blasting Bice’s “Reckless & Unfair Attack on Jennifer Dorow’s Son,” and calling it “irresponsible journalism.”

On the same day as Bice’s second slap at Dorow, the gossipy publication Jezebel did a story with a headline that sounded like an Onion spoof: “Wisconsin Supreme Court Candidate Is Trying to Open a Gun Range That Serves Alcohol.” The subhead declared that “Conservative Judge Jennifer Dorow and her husband Brian are trying to rebrand a gun range linked to an incident in which a bullet grazed a pregnant woman.” Yes, the story does raise questions about the judgement of someone running for the state’s highest court, along with that of her husband, Brian Dorow, a former City of Waukesha police supervisor who worked in the Trump administration as a deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. And it has links to local records which were a red flag that the story was leaked to Jezebel.

Yet that wasn’t all the pounding of Dorow in the media. There has also been a campaign by state Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley and Wisconsin Appeals Court Judge Shelley Grogan, to defend Kelly and vilify Dorow. For good measure Bradley took some shots at Belling.

Grogan went on the air with conservative talk radio host Dan O’Donnell and “Holds Nothing Back,” O’Donnell crowed.

“Justice Bradley and myself reviewed the record of all four candidates and we concluded that only one has proven that he is a constitutional conservative. And that’s Dan Kelly,” Grogan declared. “We saw that at the candidate forum. Only Dan stood up to the liberals.”

Whereas Dorow didn’t, Grogan noted. Dorow has been “pushing the same liberal bail policies that John Chisholm pushes in Milwaukee County.” Grogan charged, adding that Dorow’s courtroom decisions are not those of a conservative: “Go and look at Judge Dorow’s sentencing where she did not invite cameras into the courtroom.”

Waukesha County Circuit Court Chief Judge Jennifer Dorow. File photo by Emily Hamer / Wisconsin Watch.

Waukesha County Circuit Court Chief Judge Jennifer Dorow. File photo by Emily Hamer / Wisconsin Watch.

Bradley piled on in an op ed for the Freeman disagreeing with Belling and suggesting Dorow was unfit to serve on the high court. At the candidate debate, Bradley noted, “Judge Dorow was the only candidate who responded with prepared statements read from a binder… A candidate using a binder to provide answers to questions is simply unprepared for the rigors of a statewide campaign, much less to do the job of a Supreme Court justice.”

Bradley went on to bash Belling for “name-calling” and “hypocrisy” and “refusing to objectively investigate the candidates and report their records.”

“Mr. Belling is doing the very thing he (wrongly) accuses Justice Kelly of doing: sliming the only proven constitutional conservative in this race, thereby ‘paving the way’ for the progressive candidate to win the general election.”

Bradley and Dorow blasted away at still more targets in this circular firing squad. Without naming him, they fired potshots at conservative Supreme Court Justice Brian Hagedorn, who has had the temerity to vote with the court’s three liberals on a tiny minority of cases. “We can’t trust a candidate’s words anymore,” Grogan warned. “We saw that in 2019” (when Hagedorn won office).

“I once supported a candidate on blind faith,” Bradley declared. “I won’t make that mistake again.”

There they agree with Belling: all three are part of the hate Hagedorn club, but have drawn different conclusions from his election.

But perhaps the most surprising target Bradley and Grogan aimed at was retiring conservative Pat Roggensack, who has endorsed Dorow to succeed her. Belling’s column called Roggensack a “beloved” justice and “the most respected conservative jurist in this state in 30 years.”

Grogan, by contrast, says that “In the past few years, with all due respect to Justice Roggensack, her candidate selection has been questionable.”

Bradley writes that “Roggensack declined to endorse me when I was challenged by uberliberal Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg in 2016. Most recently, Justice Roggensack endorsed Judge Jeff Davis (appointed by Governor Evers) for the court of appeals instead of endorsing Judge Shelley Grogan, the most pre-eminent constitutional conservative on that bench.”

Oh yes, Grogan and Bradley are angry that Roggensack didn’t endorse them in their elections, and now that she is about to give up her power, they’ve decided to unload on the elder justice as well. With nary a shot fired by the liberals, the two conservative candidates for the Supreme Court are both bleeding profusely, victims of a right flank attack.

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Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

4 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: A Right-Wing War In High Court Race”

  1. nickzales says:

    This article reminds me of an apocryphal story taught to all first-year law students on how to argue in court. Here it is

    “If the facts are with you, pound on the facts. If the law is with you, pound on the law. If neither is with you, pound on the table.”

    I urge all candidates in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race to use their time telling the people why they are qualified. Why the law – civil, family, probate, et al – does not seem to work for the average family. And what they think they can do about it as one justice of seven. What we do not need is a hyper-focus on criminal law and the endless sounds of prison doors being slammed shut. Candidates owe the public a rational explanation of what the WSC really does and how they would use their skills at the WSC.

    Research and writing are at the core of a justice’s work. Being a trial judge goes to part of that but not all. And some people just cannot stop writing. What do they all bring in this area? Then what kinds of cases should the court consider taking more or less off? akes? The WSC hears cases at its discretion. What kind should the WSC take more of? Civil? Family? Probate? Those are the cases most people are interested in. They have a real effect on people. Should the WSC be using so much of its total resources on lawyer discipline cases? At around 30-40 each year, that is about 40% of the court’s entire docket. And then there is the court’s role in the administration of the lower courts and lawyers.

    The candidates who want to win should focus on the substantive role the court’s decisions have on people. People have had enough of bland and meaningless slogans that a “judge will apply the law as written and not what they believe it should be.” If it were that easy we could replace judges and lawyers with robots.

  2. Colin says:

    what a buncha crazies

  3. mkwagner says:

    Constitutional conservativism is NOT, I repeat, NOT the sole qualifications for a seat on the state supreme court. I would argue that intelligence and reason are far more important. Of course, these are characteristics that Rebecca Bradley has demonstrated in spades that she DOES NOT possess.

  4. frank a schneiger says:

    In the old western, Cheyenne, the hero is unjustly hauled into a kangaroo court. At some point, the judge demands of Cheyenne, “Are you showing contempt for this court?” To which Cheyenne replies, “No judge, I’m trying to hide it.” A legitimacy crisis is a very bad thing. It means that, for most people, authority has been replaced by naked power, and the court’s decisions are not respected or accepted as being legitimate. Plus, nobody knows exactly how you emerge from a legitimacy crisis. That seems to be exactly the direction that those cited in Bruce Murphy’s column are headed, and taking the people of Wisconsin with them.

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