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Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael J. Gableman, speaks during a 2011 session at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. Gableman said last week he would not run for a second term. (AP file photo: Wisconsin State Journal)
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael J. Gableman, speaks during a 2011 session at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. Gableman said last week he would not run for a second term. (AP file photo: Wisconsin State Journal)

Third candidate seeks Wisconsin court seat

MADISON, Wis. — Sauk County Circuit Judge Michael Screnock, who defended Republicans targeted for recall in 2011 and backed Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 law curtailing public workers’ collective bargaining rights, announced Friday he is running for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Screnock is the first conservative candidate in the officially nonpartisan race to be decided in April. Two other candidates, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet and Madison attorney Tim Burns, have pitched themselves as more moderate or liberal choices.

Screnock announced his candidacy the day after conservative Justice Michael Gableman said he would not run for a second term. Gableman wrote the majority opinion upholding the Act 10 law, which Screnock defended in court as part of a team of attorneys. Screnock was also part of legal teams that defended Republican state senators targeted for recall in 2011 because of their support for Act 10. He also defended Republican-drawn maps after redistricting.

Screnock was in court on Friday and not available for an interview, spokesman Nathan Conrad said. But in a prepared statement, Screnock praised Gableman and said he shared the same conservative judicial philosophy.

“It is the role of a judge to say what the law is and not what it should be,” Screnock said. “Judges must respect the different roles of the court and legislature and should not legislate from the bench.”

Burns, a longtime donor to Democratic candidates who has emphasized his liberal credentials, blasted Screnock for his role in defending Act 10.

“Judge Screnock is part of a 40-year right-wing movement to destroy workers’ rights, our democracy and our middle class economy,” Burns said.

Dallet spokesman Todd Miller said Screnock and Burns want to politicize the court while Dallet is the only candidate “who thinks judges should be fair and impartial.”

If all three announced candidates qualify for the ballot, there will be a Feb. 20 primary to narrow the field to two. The general election is April 3.

Gableman has not said if he will finish out his term or resign early. If he resigns, Walker could appoint a replacement who could then run as the incumbent in the spring election.

Screnock, who lives in Reedsburg, was appointed by Walker to the Sauk County court in 2015 and ran unopposed in 2016. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and received a master’s in business administration from Eastern College in Pennsylvania. He worked as a city administrator and finance director in Reedsburg, Washburn and Ashland before going to law school at UW-Madison.

Starting in 2007, he worked as an attorney for Michael Best & Friedrich, a law firm that frequently defends Republicans, before becoming a judge. He is married and has three adult children.

Gableman, 50, thanked voters for electing him in 2008 and said he was satisfied that he had “fulfilled my promises and put my judicial philosophy into practice. I trust the people of Wisconsin will elect a successor who is similarly committed to the rule of law.”

He defeated Justice Louis Butler, the state’s first African American justice, and the first incumbent to lose in 41 years.

Gableman included comments from the four other conservative justices in his statement announcing his decision, but nothing from the two liberals on the court. A message seeking comment from them left with court spokesman Tom Sheehan was not immediately returned.

“His thoughtful insights and dedication to the rule of law will be greatly missed,” Chief Justice Patience Roggensack said.

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