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A conversation with Milwaukee County Judge and Supreme Court candidate Judge Janet Protasiewicz

Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz.
Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz.

With a seemingly endless stream of commercials, text messages, and emails, often giving conflicting information, WUWM reached out to the candidates for the Wisconsin Supreme Court to set the record straight.

Judge Janet Protasiewicz is a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge, who was first elected in 2014. Before then, Protasiewicz was a Milwaukee County assistant district attorney for more than two decades. She joins Lake Effect's Joy Powers to explore her record and what's at stake in the April 4th election.

Conveying personal beliefs and morals

Lake Effect’s Joy Powers: You've been transparent about your personal beliefs and morals, including being open about your belief that women should be legally allowed to access abortions in the state of Wisconsin. Why is it important to you that people know where you stand on some controversial issues in the state?

Judge Janet Protasiewicz: Well, I think the citizens of this state have a right to know when they are electing someone to the Wisconsin Supreme Court who's going to be making decisions in regard to the 1849, you know, ban; the near total ban that we have on abortion. So, I've been very upfront about what my personal values are. I've attempted to, and I think I've succeeded, in being equally careful to make sure that I, you know, make sure that everybody understands that despite my personal views, I will uphold the law and follow the Constitution.

Powers: As you mentioned a bit there, your opponent has said that as a justice he would just be there to apply the law and that by talking about your beliefs, your ethics and opinions, that you're now stepping out of the role of an unbiased upholder of the law. What do you say to that assertion?

Protasiewicz: Well, I say that everybody has their opinions, and you need to put them aside when you get into a courtroom. You know, and actions speak louder than words is the other comment that I have to his comments because it's very, very, very easy to determine with just a little Google search what his thoughts and values are. In regard to whether or not women should be able to make choices in regard to their own body and their own reproductive health care. And, you know he's ... made it clear publicly. He just won't say it in an open venue.

Changing recusal procedures

Powers: You've been vocal about wanting to change the recusal protocols for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Ideally, what would that look like to you?

Protasiewicz: I think that what we need to do is to have a public hearing as to the issue of recusal and let the public weigh in. And let's hear what the public thinks...So, I think that having the public weigh in, and then the Supreme Court developing a recusal rule would, I think, would ... be the best protocol. I can tell you in contrast, you know, we had a forum in January in Madison and my opponent was opposed to any type of formal recusal rule.

Leniency on crime

Powers: There is a perception that in cases you've presided over, you've been lenient on crime, specifically on perpetrators accused of rape and domestic violence. Do you think it's appropriate for voters to question your judgment based on this perceived leniency in some cases?

Protasiewicz: No, and I'll tell you why. I've sentenced, not hundreds, but thousands of people in my career — thousands and thousands of people in my career. My opponent hasn't sentenced anybody. He's never had to make the hard calls as to whether or not somebody should spend decades behind bars; or whether they should be allowed an opportunity on supervision...After I announced my candidacy for the Supreme Court, the Republican Party of the State of Wisconsin did an open records request, and I support open records but they did an open records request for every case that I had ever touched as a Circuit Court judge and they cherry picked a handful of cases. And they have really presented to the public what I would consider an unfair presentation of those cases...But I can tell you that as a judge, I have handed out numerous, you know, really heavy sentences and those aren't, certainly aren't being talked about by my opponent. And when I say numerous, I mean hundreds and hundreds of sentences where people have been sentenced to many, many years in the Wisconsin State prison system; sometimes more time than the state of Wisconsin has recommended, sometimes less. Because, you know, I'm not a rubber stamp for anybody. You know, I came out of the DA's office in Milwaukee, but I do what I believe is fair and appropriate in each and every case. But I would say that I have major pushback and contention for the allegation that I do not take crime seriously.

Need help learning how to vote on April 4? Our voter guide has the information you need on the voting process and how to participate.


Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
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