Three candidates are challenging incumbent Supreme Court Justice David Prosser in the Feb. 15 primary election. The top two vote-getters will advance to the April 5 general election.
Name: JoAnne Kloppenburg
Family: Married, three children
Address: 2318 Rowley Avenue, Madison
Current job: Assistant attorney general, state Department of Justice
Political experience: None
Other public service: Peace Corps volunteer, 1976 to 1979; mentor with the Dane County Bar Association; English as a Second Language tutor; coordinator of the DOJ Extern Program; member, Legal Association for Women; member, Regent Neighborhood Association Board; member, Legal Action board of directors, 1991 to 1993.
Education: Bachelor's degree, Yale University; master's degree, Princeton University; law degree, UW-Madison.
Name: David T. Prosser, Jr.
Address: 57 Golf Course Road, Madison
Current Job: Justice, Wisconsin Supreme Court
Political Experience: District Attorney, Outagamie County, 1977 to 1978; State Representative, 1979 to 1996; Justice, Wisconsin Supreme Court, 1998 to present.
Other public service: Member, National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, 1983 to 1996, 2005 to 2007; Wisconsin Judicial Council, 2002 to 2006; Wisconsin Sentencing Commission, 1984 to 1988, 1994 to 1995; Wisconsin Sesquicentennial Commission, 1993 to 1999; Wisconsin Council on Criminal Justice, 1980 to 1983.
Education: Bachelor's degree, DePauw University; law degree, UW-Madison.
Name: Marla Stephens
Family: Married, two children.
Address: 4214 N. Stowell Ave., Shorewood
Current job: Appellate division director, Office of the State Public Defender
Political experience: None
Other public service: Chairwoman of the Wisconsin Judicial Council
Education: Bachelor's degree, UW-Milwaukee; law degree, Marquette University.
Campaign web site: www.StephensforJustice.com
Name: Joel Winnig
Family: Married, two children.
Address: 10 Canvasback Circle, Madison
Current job: Attorney
Political experience: Ran for Dane County judge, 1992
Other public service: Served on the boards of private and religious non-profits.
Education: Bachelor's and law degrees, UW-Madison
Campaign web site: www.winnigforjustice.com
Q: Why are you qualified to be a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice?
Kloppenburg: I have a broad, deep legal background and extensive courtroom experience. As a prosecutor at the Department of Justice, under attorneys general from both parties, my practice has included constitutional, appellate, civil, environmental, administrative, and criminal law. I've argued numerous cases in circuit courts, the Supreme Court and appeals court.
Prosser: I have served as a justice for 12 years. During this time, I have written 132 majority opinions, participated in more than 900 published decisions, attended countless court-related meetings, advocated for the court with the legislature, spoken to thousands of Wisconsinites about the court, and performed about 60 weddings.
Stephens: I have spent my entire career representing people and defending the Constitution in the trial and appellate courts. I served 10 years as the chair of the Wisconsin Judicial Council - making changes to improve the efficiency of the court system and leading the council members to consensus.
Winnig: As an attorney, I have made the court system work for working people for 33 years. I have handled the broadest variety of cases of any candidate in the race. I am the only candidate with decades of private sector experience, working with and for the people of Wisconsin.
Q: Have you accepted or not accepted public funding for your campaign? Why or why not?
Kloppenburg: I am limiting spending and not accepting special interest money through Wisconsin's Impartial Justice Act. Recent judicial campaigns have undermined the public's confidence that our judiciary is independent and impartial. If candidates for Supreme Court won't step up and participate in efforts to improve judicial elections, who will?
Prosser: There is a place for public financing, especially in judicial elections. However, Wisconsin's present law is flawed. I am taking public financing because I play by the rules and because I would have been subjected to unrelenting criticism if I had not. Critics can have double standards.
Stephens: I am not accepting public funding for my campaign. The greatest challenge I see in this race is getting my message out to the people in the face of unlimited spending by third parties. I realized that the base grants provided under the financing law would not be sufficient.
Winnig: I worked hard for and accepted public funding. I was not willing to rely on special interests or political parties to be elected. Because of the complete independence of my campaign, I will be able to decide cases before the Court solely on the basis of the law and constitution.
Q: How would you characterize the role that special interests have played in recent Supreme Court races? Should the role of money in judicial campaigns be limited?
Kloppenburg: I am not accepting any special interest money in this race. Candidates can, and should, send a clear message that as a judge they will be independent and impartial and that justice is not for sale. Third party ads have had a negative effect in many elections in Wisconsin.
Prosser: Wisconsin elects judges to assure accountability. I support judicial elections. Reasonable contribution limits promote impartiality. However, denying judicial candidates the ability to communicate effectively with the people is unconstitutional. Denying private citizens the right to influence elections by spending money to express their views is inconsistent with democratic theory.
Stephens: Third party groups have routinely outspent candidates in Supreme Court races. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees us the freedom to speak as individuals and collectively in political campaigns.
Winnig: In 2008, special interest groups financed the most disgraceful campaign in the history of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. They decided they could buy a seat on Wisconsin's highest court. In ways consistent with the Constitution, the role of money should be limited to restore independence and integrity to the Court.
Q: How open should Wisconsin's court records be? Should there be changes made to current rules for the accessibility of court records?
Kloppenburg: The legislature is looking at the accessibility of court records, both in court files and on CCAP. My opinion would be informed by the input from the various interests and participants in the legal system.
Prosser: I strongly support Wisconsin Circuit Court Access and worked to secure stable legislative funding for CCAP. Wisconsin's online records system is exceptionally open. Consequently, we must be sensitive about posting inaccurate or misleading information. There is room for improvement. Whether accurate information should ever be removed is a legislative decision.
Stephens: The policy of the state is that the public shall have access to all government records absent an "exceptional" case. We need to take care that the way in which we make these records accessible to the public also serves the public's interest.
Winnig: I believe in as much openness in government as possible. We should also remember that many cases are brought to court with allegations that are not proven. While I strongly support Internet access to court records, consideration should be given to mitigating the effects of false charges and unproven allegations.
[Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the date of the April election.]