Sauk County Circuit Court Judge Michael Screnock, who once worked on a team of lawyers to defend Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining law against lawsuits, is joining the 2018 race for a seat on the state Supreme Court.
Screnock, who was appointed to his judgeship in 2015 by Walker, announced his bid for the state’s highest court Friday — a day after Justice Michael Gableman, whose first term on the court expires in 2018, said he would not be seeking re-election.
“I want to thank Justice Gableman for his service to the Wisconsin judiciary and his commitment to the rule of law. I share that commitment along with the belief that it is the role of a judge to say what the law is and not what it should be,” Screnock said in a statement. “Judges must respect the different roles of the court and Legislature and should not legislate from the bench.”
A message left by the Wisconsin State Journal on Thursday for Screnock was not returned and spokesman Nathan Conrad said Screnock was on the bench in Sauk County on Friday and unavailable for interviews.
Two other candidates have already entered the 2018 race: Madison attorney Tim Burns and Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Rebecca Dallet.
Though the race is technically nonpartisan, candidates are usually backed by liberal or conservative interest groups. Burns and Dallet are both are backed by liberals, while Screnock is expected to be backed by conservatives.
Burns tweeted Friday that his competitor “is part of a 40 year right wing movement to destroy workers rights, our democracy and our middle class economy.”
Meanwhile, Dallet sought to draw a contrast between her and her opponents.
“It seems like we have two candidates on the extremes who think we should politicize the Supreme Court, and one — Judge Dallet — who thinks judges should be fair and impartial,” said Todd Miller, spokesman for Dallet.
Conrad said the same could be said of Dallet.
“It is telling that Judge Dallet, who spent her time at the beginning of the month pining for support and approval at the (Democratic) convention, would stoop to politicizing this race the day a qualified candidate has entered rather than focus on the issues at hand,” Conrad said.
He also said Burns is “entitled to his opinions and uninformed knee-jerk reaction to a qualified member of the judiciary entering this race.”
“Judge Screnock’s life-long pursuit of community involvement speaks for itself and he is excited to discuss the upcoming race, his judicial philosophy, and the future of the Wisconsin Supreme Court with the people of Wisconsin,” Conrad said.
Both Burns and Dallet appeared at the Democratic Party of Wisconsin convention earlier this month, and Burns has not hid his liberal leanings on the campaign trail thus far. He also has given thousands to Democratic candidates in the past.
Dallet has given to the re-election campaign of Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who is backed by liberals, and to the campaigns of Dane County Judge Julie Genovese.
It’s not clear if Gableman will fill the remainder of his term that expires in July 2018. If he steps down before then, Walker would make his third appointment to the Supreme Court since 2015.
Sauk County native
Screnock is a native of Sauk County who has worked for the cities of Reedsburg, Washburn and Ashland in various roles. In 2007, he joined the law firm of Michael Best & Friedrich and worked there before his appointment. He lives in Reedsburg.
Screnock was part of a group of attorneys that assisted the state Department of Justice in defending Walker’s signature Act 10 from legal challenges. The legislation sharply curtailed the collective bargaining rights of most public workers.
Screnock wrote in his judicial application for the Sauk County post that he was “heavily involved in developing legal strategy, researching related legal principles, and drafting briefs” in defense of the law. The state Supreme Court and an appeals court upheld the law.
Screnock received his law degree from UW-Madison and a master’s of business administration from Eastern College in Pennsylvania.
According to campaign finance records, Screnock gave $20 to the campaign of former Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen in 2009.