On Thursday, March 14, 2024, the Wisconsin Law Journal reported that the Wisconsin Judicial Commission dismissed complaints against state Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Dallet and former Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Audrey Skwierawski.

The complaints stemmed from allegations that Dallet’s appointment of Skwierawski as interim Director of State Courts in August 2023 violated the state constitution and judicial ethics rules. As a sitting judge at the time, critics argued Skwierawski was barred from holding the director role, which they classified as an “office of public trust.”

However, after reviewing the matter, the Commission determined there was no misconduct to warrant further action. Commission Executive Director Jeremiah Van Hecke explained in letters that the director position did not meet the criteria to be considered an office of public trust under the applicable Supreme Court precedent.

Specifically, Van Hecke noted the director position was created by Supreme Court rule rather than the constitution or legislature. It was also characterized as an at-will, indefinite role subject to the Court’s control, unlike an independent public office. Van Hecke added Skwierawski has since resigned from the bench at the end of 2023.

The complaints against Dallet and Skwierawski originated from former Director of State Courts Randy Koschnick, who had filed them with the Commission in August. Koschnick, who was removed from his role by the liberal Supreme Court majority earlier in 2023, claimed the appointments violated the law.

However, Koschnick’s action of publicizing his confidential complaints became a point of controversy. Supreme Court Justice Jill Karofsky accused Koschnick of trying to improperly influence the court and undermine its authority. Koschnick maintained he did nothing wrong and was exercising his free speech rights.

The Commission’s dismissal wrapped up a nearly year-long saga that triggered bitter divisions within Wisconsin’s judiciary. The complaints had been derided by liberals as partisan attempts to attack the court’s independence but fueled claims from conservatives of overreach by the new majority.

Going forward, the decision not to discipline Dallet or Skwierawski may reduce tensions. But observers note the ideological split on the Supreme Court and disagreements over its proper role raise uncertainty around further skirmishes. The controversy overall highlighted clashing views over the separation of powers.

 

 

Source: Wisconsin Law Journal