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Across the Region: March 30


Supreme Court candidates spar over partisan influences

A longtime Wisconsin Supreme Court justice and her challenger for re-election continue to spar over partisan influences two weeks ahead of an election that will determine which of them gets a 10-year term on the state’s highest court.

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley and Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley met Tuesday at a candidate forum hosted by the Dane County Bar Association in advance of the April 7 election. The race is officially nonpartisan, but like other contests for the Supreme Court in recent years, support for the candidates is breaking down largely along partisan lines.

Daley accepted a $7,000 in-kind contribution from the Wisconsin Republican Party and is speaking at GOP events around the state. Daley said he wasn’t going to apologize for the contribution, noting that it is allowed under the law.

“This campaign is not about a certain in-kind donation to my campaign,” Daley said. “The claim has been that by accepting that donation I, of course, am saying that I am supporting everything the Republican Party of Wisconsin does. Not true.”

Bradley, who has been a member of the court for 20 years and is seeking a third 10-year term, said she and Daley have different visions for how courts should operate.

“I have a vision for our court system where political parties are not having undue input on nonpartisan races,” Bradley said. “I need and want the votes of Republicans, Democrats, independents and everyone in between. But I strongly believe political parties should stay out of judicial races.”

Daley, a circuit court judge for 26 years, pointed out that Bradley has accepted donations from a variety of labor unions that have traditionally sided with Democrats, including the AFL-CIO and AFSCME.

“Justice Bradley’s real complaint is that she objects to the special interest groups that don’t support her,” Daley said. He accused Bradley of being at the center of a “dysfunctional” court.

Bradley called the race a “watershed” moment that could change the look of the court for decades both because her seat was under attack by conservatives and because her frequent ally, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, may lose her title.

A constitutional amendment placed on the ballot by the Republican-controlled Legislature would leave selecting the chief justice up to the seven justices, rather have it go to the most senior member of the court as it has for the past 126 years.

Democrats say it’s a thinly veiled attempt to remove Abrahamson from her post she’s held since 1996. She and Bradley frequently side together on cases and are considered the two most liberal members of the court that’s currently controlled by conservatives.

Daley supports the amendment and contends it makes sense to change the chief justice selection process, noting that only five states use the seniority method. He questioned the motives of Bradley, who is second in seniority to Abrahamson, for opposing it.

State elections officials predict a 20 percent turnout for the election.


Microsoft sues Iowa over software contract application

Microsoft Corp. has sued the state of Iowa, claiming its application for a software contract was not fairly considered.

The company filed a petition for judicial review last week in Polk County District Court that alleges Iowa officials unfairly approved a competitor’s proposal. The petition seeks a reversal of Iowa’s $7.5 million contract with Tempus Nova to implement a cloud-based software system for thousands of state employees as part of the deal.

Microsoft, which was one of eight companies that issued proposals to the state agency last year, claims Iowa officials waived certain requirements for Tempus Nova in accepting its bid, including that it wouldn’t have met Iowa’s open records laws.

DAS spokesman Caleb Hunter says he can’t comment on pending litigation.


Fargo police want help with surveillance

Fargo police are hoping to find private cameras to help them with public safety.

The department on Tuesday announced its participation in the national SafeCam program, which allows residents to voluntarily register surveillance cameras placed in their homes or businesses. Police say they will contact participants only if there is criminal activity in the area and citizens can decide whether or not they want to provide the images.

Some people believe that surveillance cameras are an invasion of privacy and the city received some criticism three years ago for installing them in the downtown area, but Fargo’s acting police chief said this program is different.

“These are cameras that are owned privately that people can decide to make footage accessible to us or not,” Dave Todd said. “The downtown cameras are a little bit different. Those are city-owned. We do have the ability to monitor those if we want to. We just don’t have anybody who has the available time to do it.”

About three-dozen law enforcement agencies throughout the country are participating in SafeCam. The service is provided free to both citizens and police.

People interested in participating in the program can sign up on Only Fargo police will be allowed to see the information and citizens can remove their credentials at any time. Registrants will receive a window decal in the form of a police badge.

“We hope that the sticker will deter those people who are not there for good reason, to know that that residence or business is protected,” police spokeswoman Jessica Schindeldecker said.

Police on Tuesday also announced participation in the mapping system. Residents will be able find up-to-date information online for most crimes, except for sexual assaults, crimes against children, domestic violence, drug cases and medical calls.


High court hears reporter’s plea for death records

A South Dakota journalist argued before the state Supreme Court on Tuesday that the death records of former state economic development director Richard Benda should be released with some sensitive information redacted.

Justices heard oral arguments from the attorney general’s office and reporter Bob Mercer in his appeal at the state Capitol. A circuit judge ruled against Mercer in September, saying that Attorney General Marty Jackley was justified in not releasing details of Benda’s death out of privacy concerns of family members.

Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Hallem argued Tuesday that state law doesn’t require disclosure. Mercer argued that there isn’t a blanket ban in statute and that redaction should be used to fill the request for more information about Benda’s death while maintaining privacy for his family.

“He is a public figure of high interest in a situation involving government secrecy that is of high public interest,” Mercer said after the arguments. “I wasn’t asking for something that I didn’t feel I have a right to.”

Benda’s October 2013 death was ruled a suicide. At the time, Jackley was preparing to file felony theft charges against Benda amid allegations of financial misconduct at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development surrounding the EB-5 visa program. The program recruits wealthy immigrant investors for projects in exchange for green cards.

The attorney general’s office has so-far successfully argued that Mercer’s case should be made before the Legislature to change South Dakota law, not before the courts.

Mercer, who made his case without an attorney, said the court should establish a review standard for future requests of death-investigation records that are of significant public interest.

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