By The Associated Press

Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. February 13, 2023.

Editorial: Trust and credibility are inevitably linked

The dismissal of a complaint against one of the candidates for the Wisconsin Supreme Court seems appropriate to us, given the underlying accusations. But it should most definitely be a reminder to all those involved in the courts that there’s a great deal more to their credibility than just to be cognizant of the law.

The fundamental point on which the American court systems rest is, much as we mentioned yesterday about the elections themselves, trust. It’s not quite the same, but there is an absolute need for people to be able to feel they will have a fair and thorough hearing of the issues when they’re in court. That goes for whether people are litigants or defendants.

When judges or other court officials make ill-advised or ill-tempered comments in court, it undermines that fundamental trust. That’s corrosive. It challenges the basic assumption that people in court are owed equal treatment under law, that application of the law neutrally is an inherent right irrespective of one’s personal views.

In the issue which was recently settled, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Jill Karofsky accused one of former President Donald Trump’s attorneys of using racist arguments to protect Trump, whom she referred to as the attorney’s “king.” The hearing in question was part of the numerous suits Trump and various attorneys filed in an effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

It was, at best, intemperate language from the bench. The merits of Karofsky’s underlying assertion can be debated, but we don’t believe decorum is.

Karofsky told the Associated Press in an email nothing in Wisconsin’s legal code requires “a judge to turn a blind-eye to dangerous, bad faith conduct by a lawyer or litigant.” That’s true, but neither does calling out such behavior require “mouse-like quiet.” We’ve been impressed in the past with judges who have done a sterling job in shutting down nonsense without finding a need to be combative.

The reason this catches our eye so clearly is that this, like so many other situations in a court case, will inevitably be viewed through the lens of an interested party. There are those who will cheer such comments as Karofsky’s, saying they are an example of a judge who was unwilling to have someone indulge in groundless grandstanding. There are also those who will cite it as evidence the judge’s personal biases were foundational in her decision.

It isn’t enough for judges to rule in an unbiased manner. They must be seen to do so. Those involved with the court must be observed to be evenhanded, even within a structure that lends itself to adversarial interactions.

The same is true, to a more limited degree, with those who are in court. Attorneys have an ironclad responsibility to do their best for their clients, but even that does not absolve them of the need for basic dignity.

That does not mean, of course, that every ruling and every point must go in your favor to have a fair case. Court proceedings, trials especially, are made of countless small moments in which the immediate context matters immensely. We can think of very few proceedings, other than the very simplest, in which any side wins every single point on which a judge is asked to rule.

We understand that maintaining a professional façade can indeed be a challenge when things become heated, as some hearings inevitably will. We don’t envy the job of judges or attorneys who need to keep their cool while someone else is losing theirs. It’s no easy task. It is, however, essential to the perception of fairness that is part of the system’s very base.

We will credit Karofsky for one point in this episode. Judicial complaints are, under Wisconsin law, confidential. The release of the complaint and its outcome is the kind of transparency we have urged courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States, to exercise. It is a step toward allowing people to understand and observe how the courts and those who work within them operate.

That, at least, is a step towards trust.


Kenosha News. February 8, 2023.

Editorial: Voting machines doing their job

Here we go, again.

It’s nearly time to go to the polls in Wisconsin and in our highly-contentious split red and blue state, it promises to be another donnybrook.

Tops on the list this spring is a pivotal race for Wisconsin Supreme Court that will determine the conservative-liberal balance of the court and have a major impact on state law for the next two years.

While the race is in theory non-partisan, it has major partisan implications. Conservative candidates include Waukesha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow and former Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly. On the liberal side are Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz and Dane County Circuit Judge Everett Mitchell.

The four face off in a Feb. 21 primary and the top two will then advance to the April 4 election.

With the court majority hanging in the balance that means, of course, that in the coming weeks we will be inundated with TV ads, fliers and e-mails seeking to sway us to one candidate or another.

Take that all with a grain of salt. Do a little independent research of your own before casting your ballot.

And, please, please, don’t fall for the cavalcade of misinformation that has plagued our elections in recent years – the unsubstantiated rumors of election fraud, compromised voting equipment, election improprieties and, of course, the big lie – the election was stolen.

Be confident that your vote will be counted accurately and fairly. For evidence we point to the story last week that “the largest post-election audit in state history found no voting equipment errors – and just half a dozen human errors in the November general election, according to a report from the Wisconsin Election Commission.”

The audit, conducted by county and municipal clerks in November and December included a hand tally of more than 222,000 ballots or 8.4% of all ballots cast in the Nov. 8 mid-term election.

Election commission staff identified six errors attributable to human behavior, but found no evidence that any of the audited voting equipment changed the vote from one candidate to another, incorrectly tabulated votes or altered the outcome of any audited race, according to a Lee Newspapers report.

According to the report, three of the errors came from ballots with heavy crease lines that caused the machine to register overvotes – voting for more candidates than allowed. Overvotes are not counted. Another involved a ballot that had the oval marked in with green ink and was read as blank by the voting machine.

No, we’ll probably never get to 100% accuracy on vote-counting. But as Republican election commissioner Robert Spindell put it the results of the audit were “remarkable” and “should give confidence to the people of Wisconsin that the machines are working properly.”

That doesn’t come by chance. It’s due in part to Wisconsin having some of the most strict voter ID laws in the country to stop voter fraud and it comes in large part because of the dedication and hard work by thousands of poll workers, village, city and town clerks who make painstaking efforts to ensure votes are secure. And to the voting machines that – as this audit showed – are functioning properly.

Your vote will be counted – fairly and accurately. Now it’s up to you to fill out your absentee ballot or go to the polls on Election Day and do your civic duty.


Wisconsin State Journal. February 12, 2023.

Editorial: UW has some work to do encouraging free speech

A plaque at the entrance to Bascom Hall on the UW-Madison campus has greeted students for more than a century with an emphatic mission:

“Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere,” it reads, “we believe that the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.”

To its credit, the University of Wisconsin System just tested and defended that vision by asking its students to speak about speech. It conducted a survey of more than 10,000 students across 13 campuses on their attitudes toward the First Amendment, civil dialog, classroom discussions and more.

The results were troubling in some ways and reassuring in others. But they were definitely worth collecting in these polarizing times, when social media bubbles separate many people into closed-minded tribes. If our college campuses can’t foster a robust exchange of ideas among our brightest young people, they won’t produce the innovation and creativity our society and democracy need to flourish.

More than half of the students who responded to the survey said they think UW campuses should disinvite speakers if some students find their message offensive. That suggests the potential to chill lively and important discussions.

The university can have politically neutral standards for who it honors with a podium in the halls of higher learning, and whether student groups can host a provocative voice on campus. But the definition of “offensive” must never devolve into “something I disagree with.”

All UW System campuses must guard against groupthink by challenging students to consider views far beyond comfy agreement. That must include wide latitude on speech about politics, public policy, culture, science and more.

The survey results include some bright spots. Most students in the survey said they feel comfortable talking about controversial issues. Most also credited faculty for doing a good job of facilitating open discussions.

Significantly, 93% agreed that interrupting a speaker with noise is unacceptable, and 97% objected to physically forcing a speaker from a stage.

Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin said UW-Madison must do more to encourage diverse views in class, which is welcome. She told the UW Board of Regents last week about efforts to teach more than 800 instructors “to design and facilitate powerful discussions” on campus. She’s also considering a project that gathers students with divergent views “to talk and listen across difference.”

Mnookin has the tricky job of encouraging lively debate while simultaneously improving the campus experience for students who are underrepresented and feel excluded. Our universities should better reflect our communities.

Yet the plaque on Bascom Hall requires a commitment to free inquiry above all else.

University officials delayed the survey last fall to ease worry by campus critics that the results could become political fodder in the midterm elections. Conservatives have long complained their views are shunned on campus. Yet most of the state’s talented instructors and researchers aren’t concerned with partisan goals. They educate our young people in subjects such as math, botany and computers.

Some conservatives were mad at university officials for delaying the survey. Some liberals wanted to pull the plug and seemed to fear what students might say. But if students don’t think they can speak their minds on campus, that needs attention. The problem won’t go away if ignored.

The survey shows UW schools have some work to do, but they are better for asking these questions.