Wisconsin Supreme Court chamber entrance

A Marquette University Law School professor who ran unsuccessfully for the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2013 announced Wednesday that he will try again in 2020, when majority control of the court could be at stake.

Ed Fallone, who was backed by Democrats during his previous run, announced his candidacy during an interview with The Associated Press a full year before the election and just six days before another Supreme Court election. Fallone said he has been telling friends and supporters about his intention to run and wanted to get an early start.

He’s the first candidate to officially declare he’s running for the seat currently held by conservative Justice Dan Kelly. Tuesday’s election pits state appeals court judges Lisa Neubauer and Brian Hagedorn against one another in a race to replace retiring Justice Shirley Abrahamson.

Kelly, who was appointed by then-Gov. Scott Walker in 2016, said Wednesday that he hasn’t decided whether to run for a full term but that serving on the court “has been the honor of a lifetime.”

“You may be able to infer from that how I’m leaning,” he said in a phone interview. Kelly said he had no timeline for deciding but would make a decision sometime after next week’s election.

The court is currently controlled 4-3 by conservatives. A win by Neubauer, who is backed by liberals, would put majority control of the court in play in the 2020 race. Kelly said the outcome of next week’s election would not affect his decision on running.

Fallone pledged to raise issues during the race but to not take partisan political positions.

“I’m not going to run a ‘safe’ race,” Fallone said. “Voters will know where I stand.”

That said, Fallone tried to distance himself from the politics at play.

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“I’m very much against the view that our courts are political prizes to be won by either political party or any sort of partisan ideology,” he said.

The most important issue is whether a judge will be a “person of courage and integrity” who is “willing to speak their mind” even if it will dissatisfy friends and supporters, Fallone said.

If successful, Fallone would be the first candidate elected to the Supreme Court who is not a sitting judge in nearly 40 years. There have been numerous people appointed to the court who were not judges at the time, including Kelly. But the last non-judge who successfully ran was William Bablitch, in 1983.

Fallone has been at Marquette for 27 years and prior to that worked as an attorney specializing in civil and business law. He hasn’t argued a case in a Wisconsin courtroom, a fact that Fallone said he doesn’t think should factor against him.

“It’s not been my bread and butter,” he said of being a trial court attorney. The Supreme Court is an appellate court, not a trial court, so Fallone said his experience would serve him well as a justice there.

Fallone cited Kelly’s not having been a judge when asked about his own lack of judicial experience. Fallone said there’s a need for justices with a diversity of experiences, and his background in constitutional, administrative, corporate and criminal law would give the court a “breadth of experience” it is lacking.

He said a race against Kelly would be about Walker’s decision to appoint him, which Fallone called “an example of political cronyism at its worst. The state Supreme Court should not be a location that a governor can stock with political loyalists.”

Kelly said if Fallone doesn’t like the fact that governors can make appointments to the Supreme Court “he should get his friends together and change the constitution.”

If elected, Fallone would be the first Latino justice on the state Supreme Court. Fallone was backed by labor unions and Democrats during his 2013 run. He lost to Chief Justice Pat Roggensack, 57 percent to 43 percent.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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