In a rare public moment of camaraderie, Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Pat Roggensack on Wednesday praised the “remarkable efforts” of former chief justice Shirley Abrahamson.
Roggensack asked attendees of a courts conference to give Abrahamson a standing ovation for her 19 years as chief justice, and ticked off plans Abrahamson successfully implemented during her tenure — including a task force aimed at mental health and creating online resources for defendants who represent themselves in court.
It was Roggensack’s first state of the judiciary address as chief justice since replacing Abrahamson after voters approved a referendum that would allow the court’s justices to pick the chief justice rather than rely on seniority.
Abrahamson, who is part of the court’s liberal-leaning minority, filed a lawsuit soon after seeking to keep her title as chief justice until her term expires in 2019, but dropped it this week.
The dispute over who should be chief justice earlier this year was another chapter in a long history of public feuding on a divided court that now has a conservative majority. The dynamic on the court had been particularly dicey in recent months as Abrahamson sought to regain her title.
At the time of Abrahamson’s lawsuit filing, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley said the state court system was in a state of upheaval because of the debate. Justice N. Patrick Crooks, who died in September, asked a federal judge presiding over the suit to create a transitional plan for Roggensack to replace Abrahamson “to address the chaotic situation that exists.”
Gov. Scott Walker named Rebecca Bradley to fill Crooks’ seat. Bradley, backed by Republicans, gives the court a clear conservative majority. Crooks was considered a swing vote.
Bradley had announced her candidacy for Crooks’ seat before he died and after he announced he would be retiring. Next spring, Bradley will face Milwaukee County Judge Joe Donald, state appeals court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg and Madison attorney Claude Covelli to keep the seat.
Roggensack also on Wednesday said she would ask legislators to increase the salaries of the state’s judges — a proposal Abrahamson also called for last year during the annual address.