Pat Roggensack seeks Supreme Court re-election

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Pat Roggensack seeks Supreme Court re-election

Premiere Date: 
January 10, 2013

Supreme Court Justice Pat Roggensack discusses her re-election campaign.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Pat Roggensack:

I absolutely love my job. The opportunity to sort through complicated legal questions and put your decision in writing, it's tremendously satisfying for me. I absolutely love the work. And some of my friends say, well, you spend so much time researching and writing. Last night I was working until 10:00, because even though I'm running a campaign, I have a full-time job and I have an opinion that I'm working on that I want to get to my colleagues tomorrow. I really love it. I absolutely love the job. It's been a wonderful opportunity.

Frederica Freyberg:

What has been your specific contribution during your tenure on the high court?

Pat Roggensack:

Well, I've done a number of things. First of all, my focus has been, how can the court better serve the public. You know, I came to the Supreme Court from the Court of Appeals, where I sat for seven years, and that court was a very quick turnaround. When I got on the Supreme Court, after the first year, I was concerned about how slow we were in getting our opinions out to the public, because people wait every day. Will my opinion come down today? Will it come down today? And most of them were coming down in June. So after the first year on the court I wrote a memo to all my colleagues telling them how much I loved working with each of them and how much I enjoyed the work, and making a suggestion about how we might get the opinions out a little more quickly. Well, that memo was greeted with a resounding thud and a couple of, well, we don't do things that way here. But, you know, my focus is trying to move the court in a more effective fashion, and I continue to talk to them about it. And finally, three years ago, on June 1, we had issued only 13 of the 58 opinions we got out. At that point they said, oh, well, let's try one of Roggensack's suggestions. So we tried one. The next year June 1, we got 23 out. A little better, but not terrific. This last year I got the court to agree to spend less time an administrative conferences, so we just did file rule petitions and we used that time we have been sitting out in front of Wisconsinites philosophizing, working on opinions. This June 1, we got 35 of 58 out. So I have really focused on the public's need to get our decisions out more quickly. Also, do you know the Supreme Court sets the budget for the entire court system, not just our court, but everything? There never was a finance committee. And I have an undergraduate degree in biology, so I’ve had lots of math and numbers, frankly, are friendly to me. And so when the first biennial budget came up, we got three or four sheets of paper and I was asked to approve the budget, and I said, well, what's the rest of the budget looks like, because I don't know how to fit this in. Is this a good choice? And people kind of looked at me funny. But I got the whole budget and I read it. And the suggestions were good suggestions and I approved it. The next biennial budget, same thing, I got a few sheets of paper. And I said, hey, you guys know me better. I have to have the whole budget. So I got the whole budget and I read it, and I began talking to my colleagues about the fact that we should be involved earlier in the process as a Supreme Court. Well, you know, money has gotten tighter and tighter for everyone and we have an obligation as justices to be careful stewards of the public's money. In 2011, my colleagues unanimously agreed to set up the first Supreme Court finance committee in the history of the state. So I'm really proud of that. I serve on that committee today, and doing this biennial budget, which is the first biennial budget we've had since the committee, we had input earlier. We could effect the budget at an earlier time. So my focus has been to write thoughtful opinions, and also to try to do the work of the court in a way that assists the public in a more effective fashion.

Frederica Freyberg:

As you well know, one of your challengers is not alone in, kind of, describing the high court at this point as dysfunctional. He cites, and others, the infighting among members, highlighted perhaps by the physical altercation between Justices Prosser and Bradley. What is your response to being part of a court that has been dubbed dysfunctional?

Pat Roggensack:

Well, first of all, this race is not about the court. It is about one justice, Pat Roggensack, asking the citizens of Wisconsin to give her another ten-year term. Now, the problems that went on with Justice Bradley and Justice Prosser make my heart ache, as I'm sure it does for a lot of people. But, you know, saying I should get kicked off the court is kind of like, oh,  there's a tussle in the Packer's locker room. So Aaron Rodgers' contract is the next one up. Let's kick Aaron Rodgers off. That doesn’t make a lot of sense.  This race is not about the court. This is about Pat Roggensack. Has she done a good job for the court? It’s about, what are her qualifications to sit as a Supreme Court justice as compared to my two opponents?

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, critics do also suggest that you, as a member of the court and the court itself, seems unable to police itself by not being able to, or deciding not to, take up the ethics case against Justice Prosser. So– and even when the high court itself is in charge of policing lawyers. What's your reaction to that, that the court can't police itself?

Pat Roggensack:

Well, I think the court can police itself. I am not on Justice Prosser's case because there's a statute that the legislature created, 757.19 sub 2 (b) that says, if you are a material witness you must disqualify yourself. So I followed the law just like I expect the rest of the public to follow the law. That does not mean that the Supreme Court has no opportunity to discipline its own members. It's just that it will not work through the process of the judicial commission that is currently where Justice Prosser's matter lies. We have the inherent authority to discipline our own members, and I’ve suggested to members on our court, a method to do that. So far, I haven't gotten an agreement. But I'll keep working on it, because I understand that there's a need for us to clear the decks with the public on this issue, and I'd like to do it. But it's something that we all have to talk about and come to some appropriate resolution on.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, the last Supreme Court race was regarded as, kind of, a proxy for Scott Walker. It was highly politicized. I don't have to tell you that. Why should we pretend at this point that this is a nonpartisan election for nonpartisan seats?  

Pat Roggensack:

Well, I don't think it's a pretension, first of all. We run on a nonpartisan basis. In Wisconsin that doesn't mean there's not partisan involvement, in my view. It means you should include both Democrats and Republicans in your campaign. And I've made a great effort to do that. You know, I have law enforcement sheriffs throughout the state of Wisconsin, district attorneys throughout the state of Wisconsin, Republicans and Democrats alike, are supporting me. Because they know I have a firm understanding of the law, and they see that I've decided the cases fairly and even handedly.

Frederica Freyberg:

Justice Roggensack, thanks very much.

Pat Roggensack:

You're very welcome.


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