The Wisconsin parade crash is a delicate subject in the Supreme Court race
MADISON, Wisconsin –
The judge who oversaw the trial of a man convicted of killing six people when he drove his SUV through a Christmas parade last year says national exposure and encouragement she received for her handling of the case was not the reason is why she’s running for a crucial Wisconsin Supreme Court seat.
But Dan Kelly, one of her challengers and a fellow conservative, said Thursday that the case is the only reason Waukesha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow entered the race.
“I’m struggling to think of any other reason why she would think she would be a qualified candidate for the Supreme Court,” Kelly said.
This is the first time since Wisconsin Supreme Court races became highly partisan that more than one conservative is active. Dorow and Kelly are the two Conservative candidates.
Two liberal candidates, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz and Dane County Circuit Judge Everett Mitchell, are also vying for the open seat. Voters will narrow the field to two candidates in the Feb. 21 primaries, with the winner chosen on April 4.
The winner will determine whether conservatives retain their Supreme Court majority or liberals take the lead heading into the 2024 presidential election. The highly partisan court has had the final say in upholding several Republican priorities over the past decade, including heavily gerrymandered legislative cards and a law that effectively ends collective bargaining rights for public employees.
Dorow was inundated with fan mail and gifts for how she handled the often unruly defendant, Darrell Brooks, who represented herself during the livestream court case. The jury convicted Brooks and Dorow sentenced him to life in prison with no chance of release.
Dorow said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday that she had to weigh many factors when deciding whether to run, including whether she could mount a winnable campaign.
“No doubt the exposure helps with that,” she said in reference to the Brooks trial. “But I’m not running for Supreme Court because of the Brooks case. I’m running because I think I’m the best candidate to do the job.”
Still, she said the Brooks case gave voters “a unique opportunity to see me in action, and I think this is a snapshot of what I’m capable of and what I’ll be doing in the future.”
But Kelly, who has been in the race since September, said candidates for the court normally have a “record of being a scholastic and a serious approach to the law” that can be scrutinized.
“She’s got none of that,” Kelly said. “She has the Brooks trial. I don’t know of anything she’s bringing to the table other than the Brooks trial.’
Dorow said in an email sent to AP in response to Kelly’s comments, “I’ll be happy to compare my background and credentials with those of any of the candidates, including Dan, who has never been a trial judge and never been a prosecutor.”
Democrats went even further in criticizing Dorow, with state party executive director Devin Remiker accusing Dorow of “profiting from tragedy.”
“We hope she refrains from commenting further on the Brooks trial throughout the campaign so she doesn’t jeopardize the outcome,” he said.
Dorow launched her candidacy for the Supreme Court on Wednesday, exactly two weeks after she convicted Brooks and nearly three months after Kelly entered. This is her first statewide race.
Both Dorow, 52, and Kelly, 58, were appointed to the bench by former Republican Governor Scott Walker. He appointed Dorow a circuit judge in Waukesha County in 2011 and Kelly a member of the state Supreme Court in 2016. Dorow twice won unopposed election in the GOP stronghold of Waukesha County, a suburb of Milwaukee, while Kelly lost in the elections of 2020 in his run for a full 10-year term on the bench.
Dorow said her 11 years of court experience is a crucial asset she would bring to court, in addition to her previous experience in private practice as a criminal defense attorney and prosecutor. Kelly had not served as a judge before Walker appointed him to the Supreme Court. Both liberal candidates are judges.
Kelly argued that conservatives know what they’re getting with him given his years spent on the Supreme Court, but they don’t with Dorow.
“I don’t think they’re in the mood to gamble on who the next Supreme Court justice will be,” Kelly said.