Judicial races are supposed to be genteel affairs, free from the nasty sting of partisan politics. But the race for Dane County Circuit Court has taken an ugly turn, with critics of both candidates leveling charges.
The race pits Roger Allen, a former assistant city attorney for Madison who was appointed last year by Gov. Scott Walker, against challenger Ellen Berz, a public defender and UW-Madison adjunct professor.
Berz beat Allen in the February primary, with 44% of the vote to Allen's 31%. As the top two vote-getters, they square off in the April 3 general election.
Critics say Allen has misrepresented his record by claiming that he authored the lawsuit challenging Walker's act to abolish collective bargaining for public employees, and that he is endorsed by both the Dane County Bar Association and Madison City Attorneys Association.
Neither association has endorsed a candidate in the race, though the Dane County Bar did poll its members on judges, which earned Allen favorable marks. However, critics say few lawyers actually responded to the poll.
On a WISC-TV forum, Allen calls that an "endorsement," saying: "It speaks to my qualifications for office, the type of supporters I have, the endorsement of the Dane County Bar Association, through their poll, finding me 84% highly qualified or qualified."
In a campaign ad (see this item at TheDailyPage.com), Allen also claims to have authored the challenge to Walker's collective bargaining law on the grounds that it violated the open meetings law. Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne wrote the challenge.
Allen's campaign manager, Mark Clear, says Allen did write "the verified complaint that Mayor Dave [Cieslewicz] submitted" and shared it with the county. "It's one of those subtle nuances that's hard to get into a soundbite," Clear adds.
But the claims are too much for Kevin Straka, the board chair of United Wisconsin. United Wisconsin also doesn't endorse candidates, but Straka says, "This issue has nothing to do with whom I might support. It has to do with a candidate not being honest. I need someone to be honest if they want me to give them a fair chance."
Clear says the gripes "seem a little nitpicky to me."
He adds, "Many more people are concerned about letting partisan politics into a judicial election, which up till now has been fiercely nonpartisan." As evidence, he points to attempts by Berz's campaign to link Allen to Gov. Walker, who appointed him last December to the post.
And Clear also questions Berz's most recent finance report, which shows her spending $6,000 more than the $34,000 raised, but leaves her with a balance of almost $5,000. "The math doesn't work," Clear says.
Jean Steinhauer, treasurer for Berz's campaign, says a one-time $11,000 expenditure was being counted twice. She has corrected the report with the state Government Accountability Board.
The Allen camp has clearly been out-muscled in the fundraising fight, raising just over $18,000.