Baldwin Receives FEC Inquiry into Possible Excessive Campaign Donations

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin’s campaign has until Wednesday to respond to a Federal Elections Commission inquiry into possible excessive, prohibited and impermissible campaign contributions.  According to the notice, the Baldwin campaign appears to have received excessive contributions totaling $179, 701.99:

  • Excessive Contributions from Individuals: $94,802
  • Excessive Contributions from Committees: $73,900
  • Excessive Contributions from Committees Not Qualified for Multi-Candidate Status: $10,000
  • Contributions from Unregistered Organizations: $999.99
  • Total Number of Donations: 271
  • 238 Individual Donations
  • 33 Committee and PAC Donations
  • Total Number of Donors: 36

22 Individuals are listed, including former Wisconsin Democratic Governor Jim Doyle and former Democratic U.S. Senator Herb Kohl.

14 Committees and PACs are listed. They include the Midwest Values PAC, founded by Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, Forward Together PAC, which has Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner of Virgnia as its honorary chairmen, M-PAC, which is affiliated with Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington, and Legit-Action PAC, founded by former Democratic U.S. Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

The inquiry says that although the FEC may take further legal action concerning the acceptance of prohibited contributions,  prompt action to refund the prohibited amount will be taken into consideration:

Adequate responses must be received by the Commission on or before the due date noted above to be taken into consideration in determining whether audit action will be initiated. Failure to comply with the provisions of the Act may also result in an enforcement action against the committee. Any response submitted by your committee will be placed on the public record and will be considered by the Commission prior to taking enforcement action. Requests for extensions of time in which to respond will not be considered.

The inquiry is dated August 16 and gives the Baldwin campaign until September 20 to respond. Media Trackers reached out to Baldwin Campaign Manager Scott Spector on Thursday seeking comment, including whether the campaign had responded to the inquiry. Spector did not respond to two calls seeking comment.

Investigation “Will Likely Find” USPS Activity Violated Hatch Act

Media Trackers has learned that the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs will hold a hearing Wednesday on leaves granted to postal workers to engage in campaign activity during the 2016 election. A letter to a witness from committee chairman, Senator Ron Johnson (R)-Wisconsin, and ranking Member Claire McCaskill, (D)-Missouri, obtained by Media Trackers, says: “We understand that the Office of Special Counsel will likely find that some of USPS’s practices related to granting LWOP (Leave Without Pay) for union activities constituted an institutional violation of the Hatch Act.”

Media Trackers first reported on a USPS Office of Inspector General audit of the practices on Tuesday.

The audit concluded that U.S. Postal Service policy was circumvented when Postal Service employees around the country, including Wisconsin, were granted leave without pay (LWOP) to engage in union campaign activities for Democrats in Fall, 2016. Media Trackers exclusively reported about the existence of the investigation in December.

In late November 2016, Johnson asked the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (UPSOIG) review a constituent’s allegation that a select group of postal carriers took LWOP from the Wisconsin Rapids and Marshfield post offices to participate in union political activities. The constituent told Media Trackers in December that the approved leaves created serious strains on staffing and questioned whether the overtime costs accrued may have violated the Hatch Act.

The UPSOIG Office of Investigations, in conjunction with the Office of Special Counsel, conducted a separate investigation of potential Hatch Act violations. The Hatch Act is a federal law that restricts the political activity of federal and Postal Service employees while on duty, on government property, wearing an official uniform, or using a government vehicle. It also prohibits candidates campaigning for election to public office on leased or owned postal property.

The UPSOIG audit found that:

In 2016, the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) worked with the American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations as part of the Labor 2016 Campaign (campaign), which focused on “get out the vote efforts.” As part of the campaign, NALC requested, and the Postal Service granted, LWOP from September to November 2016 for 97 carriers assigned to 92 facilities nationwide. The NALC identified six battleground states as priority: Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  The audit says that, in the past, the Postal Service has allowed its employees to participate in this NALC campaign effort. But the audit also found that policies regarding the granting of LWOP were circumvented in 2016, which led to understaffed offices accruing thousands of hours in overtime pay. From the audit:

From September through November 2016, the Postal Service granted LWOP to the 97 carriers for periods ranging from four to 50 days to participate in political activities on behalf of the union. The total cumulative amount of LWOP taken by these carriers was about 2,776 days during this period. These carriers were located in 92 facilities nationwide. Seventy eight percent of the facilities (72 of 92) were located in six political battleground states where NALC endorsed specific candidates. Additionally, about 2,264 of the 2,776 cumulative days (82 percent) of the total LWOP for these carriers were used in these six states.

The audit found that local and regional managers with staffing concerns often were overruled by superiors and ordered to grant the LWOP:

Several factors contributed to supervisors approving LWOP requests even though operational concerns were raised. The headquarters Labor Relations manager of policies and programs circumvented the LWOP policy by issuing emails to all area Labor Relations managers communicating the release of 97 carriers to participate in this union political activity. The emails also requested immediate notification if there were any issues with granting the LWOP. Postmasters, managers, and supervisors perceived the communication as a requirement to approve the LWOP requests.

Additionally, headquarters Labor Relations officials did not communicate or coordinate requests for carriers to participate in the union activity with senior Operations personnel, including the chief operating officer or area vice presidents. Also, the Chief Human Resources Officer and Vice President, Labor Relations, were aware of the releases, but did not communicate the requests to senior Operations personnel since these requests had been accommodated in the past.

Further, NALC officials provided carriers with emails and texts announcing their selection to participate in the political activity. The carriers used this information as support to request LWOP. Postmasters, managers, and supervisors at the facilities reviewed perceived the communications they received from Postal Service management and union officials as a requirement to approve the LWOP requests.

The Postal Service has historically allowed its employees to participate in union political campaigns and has an organizational culture of supporting relationships with the union, which impacted some supervisor’s decision to approve LWOP. While on LWOP, these carriers were paid by NALC, which was subsequently reimbursed by its Letter Carrier Political Fund, in accordance with federal Election Commission regulations.

Based on our review of LWOP requests for the 22 carriers, we determined that supervisors and postmasters felt compelled to release carriers and grant LWOP despite Postal Service policy to consider not only the needs of the employee, but operational impact. These supervisors initially denied the LWOP requests, five due to staffing shortages and two due to a lack of information. The supervisors verbally denied the requests and expressed their concerns by telephone or email to their district Labor Relations managers,2 manager of Post Office Operations (MPOO),3 or manager of Operations Programs Support.4 Despite supervisors’ concerns, their decisions were subsequently overruled by these managers and the supervisors were instructed to approve the leave.

More from the audit:

On September 2 and October 2, 2016, the headquarters Labor Relations manager of policies and programs circumvented the policy by issuing emails to all area Labor Relations managers communicating the release of 97 carriers to participate in the campaign. The emails also requested immediate notification if there were any issues with granting LWOP. In some cases, these messages appeared to influence the decisions of local labor relations and operational managers as they provided guidance to front-line supervisors. For example:

■ Pacific Area: The officer-in-charge (OIC) at the Highland Post Office in CA initially denied a carrier’s LWOP request due to staffing shortages and increased overtime. The OIC contacted the San Diego District Labor Relations manager for guidance. The manager instructed the OIC to release the carrier.

■ Eastern Area: In the Philadelphia Metropolitan District, three postmasters, with the support of the MPOO, attempted to deny the release of three carriers by informing the Eastern Area Labor Relations specialist via email of staffing issues. The specialist then notified the headquarters Labor Relations manager of these concerns; however, the headquarters Labor Relations manager instructed the area Labor Relations specialist to encourage the district to facilitate the requests.

■ Great Lakes Area: Although supervisors in Delafield, Waukesha, Marshfield, and Wisconsin Rapids, WI, initially wanted to deny the requests to release the carriers, the MPOO encouraged them to release the carriers.

■ Western Area: A supervisor at Vista Station in Sparks, NV, approved a carrier’s LWOP request because they were instructed by a district Labor Relations specialist to release the carrier based on past practices. Area and district Labor Relations managers we interviewed perceived communications from headquarters as a requirement.

The audit concluded that the Postal Service incurred net overtime costs of $90,682 to cover for carriers who took LWOP to engage in the union’s political activities. It is possible that the increased overtime costs are the focus of the investigation into possible Hatch Act Violations.

It should be noted that, in rebuttal, postal service management challenged some of the findings of the audit.

The Postal Service disagreed with two of the report’s conclusions. First, management does not believe there is any factual basis that a headquarters Labor Relations manager “circumvented” the Postal Service’s LWOP policy by directly communicating the union’s request to operations managers in the field.

Secondly, management disagreed with the conclusion that the Postal Service incurred net overtime costs of $90,682 to cover union members who took LWOP to engage in the union’s political activities, since they find it to be unsubstantiated and, therefore, potentially inaccurate and misleading.

The audit states that the UPSOIG stands behind its findings.

When Fear Drives Good Teachers out of the Classroom

Green Bay, Wisconsin is best known to national television audiences as the smallest city in America with an NFL team. Green Bay Packers broadcasts are typically replete with scenes of bucolic torpor; cows grazing on grass, cheese being manufactured or perhaps fans noshing on bratwurst. With a city population of just a shade over 100,000 and a metro area of just more than 300,000, the city appears to typify Rockwellian middle-America. But largely hidden from the public eye in this “big small town” are very real big city school problems. A dedicated teacher recently chose to expose them and, for exactly three weeks, nobody noticed her warning cries.

Kerstin Westcott says teaching 6th grade reading at Washington Middle School was her dream job. She says her calling in life is to work with at risk kids and kids in need: “that’s what I was made to do, and I’m good at it.” In fact, Westcott was a 2014 recipient of a “Golden Apple Award,” presented each year to Green Bay area teachers who excel at their profession. Three years later, on June 5, 2017, Westcott appeared before the Green Bay Area Public Schools district board to announce her resignation. Westcott calmly told the board: ” I would not survive another year in the toxic setting at Washington. “I must resign, even though I have a broken heart. Because, I cannot survive in this unhealthy and unsafe environment any longer. I am here now to speak for the people who will remain there and try to survive in this dangerous work and school setting every day.”

Westcott’s declaration came after she detailed how students are largely running Washington Middle School. You can watch Westcott deliver her message here.Although her voice broke at times, Westcott remained calm as she described in jarring detail what students and staff face each day at Washington:

  • “I fear for my safety every day. I am equally afraid for the safety of my colleagues and, most importantly, my students. We are in danger every day when we show up to our school.”
  • “Students and staff are physically, verbally, emotionally, mentally and sexually abused, every single day in the building.”
  • “We are sworn at and called vile, crude and sexual names every day.” (Westcott brought with her a page full of examples from the previous two days but couldn’t bring herself to read them aloud, which she called devastating).
  • “In addition to verbal abuse, the people at Washington are getting injured more than ever…just a couple of weeks ago a teacher was taken away in an ambulance, with a bleeding head wound caused by a fight among three students.”
  • “Another teacher was physically attacked by students trying to set off a deadly allergic reaction on purpose, causing her throat to close and her to struggle to breathe.” (Westscott here is alleging that students attempted to induce a fatal allergic reaction in a teacher, yet a Google search yields no media coverage of an incident that could be described as attempted murder of a teacher in school.)
  • “A student was held down on a table and his legs put in vise grips, so that other students could take his shoes. “
  • “A student had his pants and underwear pulled down, exposing him in a crowded hallway of students.:
  • “Another student approached a group of teachers and pulled his pants down and touched himself inappropriately, while laughing at their requests to stop.”
  • “Just last week two students laid on a table in the classroom and kissed each other  heavily and pretended to have sex, while a substitute teacher tried to get them to stop.”

Westcott said all of the incidents she described happened in the month of May. Westscott said fires have been set in the school, weapons brought in and drugs sold and used. Westcott said a student had recently threatened to shoot up the school and asked board members and administrators if it would take someone getting killed before they would “finally take the drastic action that is needed.” Again, none of this generated headlines in the Green Bay area media. Jim Bender of School Choice Wisconsin reacted to the video:

“School safety and classroom culture have been noted as key factors from parents who utilize school choice. Listening to an award-winning teacher resign because she felt the students and teachers were unsafe inside their school is heart breaking.”

Bender’s comment is notable because the Green Bay school district is bleeding students through the state’s public school open enrollment program. It allows parents to move their children from one school to another within a district, or to another school district altogether. The Green Bay School District gained 384 students through open enrollment in 2015-16, but lost 1,933, for the net loss of 1,549. Green Bay is, by far, the biggest open enrollment loser in Northeast Wisconsin and has tried for years to stanch the flow of students to other districts. Former Green Bay School principle Terry Fondow has argued that talk of a new high school on Green Bay’s far east side is driven by the desire to have a new school that “looks like” the suburban schools to which Green Bay is bleeding students.

At another point in her statement, Westcott described Washington as a barbaric environment where students come to understand that they must adopt aggressive, violent behavior as a survival mechanism:

“Just the other day, I broke down after I witnessed an 8th grade student in the office; screaming and swearing at a staff member about his cell phone being taken away. This boy was in my class in sixth grade. He had never been in any trouble; never had an office referral. Great student, polite young man; happy. But every day for the last two and a half years he has lived in the chaos that we as adults have allowed to exist at his school.

And he sees that the only way to survive in this environment is to be aggressive. He saw my jaw drop open at his behavior. And his face crumpled and he started to cry instead of scream. Because he is not this person. We created this person, because of the environment we forced him to be part of day in and day out. Sadly, he’s not the only child who has changed for the worse because of the education they are receiving at Washington.

Their education teaches them the skills needed to survive in our school; swearing, screaming, skipping class, hurting people. That’s the only way kids survive at Washington right now. Kids who do not learn these tactics are being tormented daily. I look out to faces of students in my classroom and I see fear in their eyes.

I have instructed my students not to answer the door to our classroom, because of the truant students who run the school and come looking for fights. They pound on our door, shake our door handle, scream swear words into our vents, punch and kick the doors and terrorize us while we are trying to teach and learn. And these are just some of the violent, aggressive behaviors my kids have to deal with every day.”

In other words, Westcott is describing a situation where students and staff are captive in the classroom from dangerous students roaming the hallway.  And Westcott said the emotional, psychological and physical toll on staff is staggering:

“…our work environment has become so toxic, it is literally making us sick. I have numerous colleagues out on extended leave due to stress. It’s a vicious cycle because we cannot get substitute teachers to come to our building. So every single day we are asked to cover the classes of our colleagues who are out. This perpetuates the cycle because we are thrown into classes with kids we don’t know. Sometimes there are no lesson plans or rosters. We are given no support and then have all our preparation time taken away from our own classes. This compounds the stress put on us and makes us even sicker. 

One of my colleagues has headaches every single week day and is taking medication. Another one wakes up with cold night sweats several times a week. One had nightmares for days after being threatened by an aggressive student. Another person, one of my teachers, wakes up every single Sunday night around 2 AM and throws up in anticipation of the work week starting.

We have heard of more teachers now than ever before being treated for anxiety, depression and stress and related health concerns that working at Washington bring. I comfort co-workers who are crying, daily. We exhibit symptoms of PTSD because we live in trauma from 7:30 to 3:00 every single day.”

So, what does Westcott want administration to do? She says Washington has been in a downward spiral for years, but recrimination over how it got where it is isn’t her goal.  She concedes that some steps have been taken, but she says they are band aids. She wants the district to take immediate steps to improve things for the staff and students she leaves behind. Westcott does ask for more human resources at Washington, but she says the district could start by enforcing rules already on the books as opposed to tolerating the current behavior.

“We need you to follow the student handbook that you have created…students who commit aggressive or violent behavior shall be required to seek an initial screening and ongoing counseling, and provide written evidence of this counseling to the principal within one month of their offense. Simply following through with that one rule would be a huge start to making positive change for us.

Enforcing the policy…for students with subsequent violent violations would be another way for you to make positive change for us. Start this long term change process by committing to following through with the consequences that you already have.”

Westcott’s plea for administrators to enforce the rules now on the books begs the question: why aren’t they being enforced now?  While there is no clear answer, there may be a racial element to the lack of discipline at Washington.

366 students, or 40.8% of the student population at Washington Middle identify as Hispanic, making up the largest segment of the student body.  That compares with 19.6% Hispanic at other Green Bay Schools. It’s also much higher than the typical 11% in the typical Wisconsin school. in 2015 the New York Post  reported that liberal disciplinary practices for minority students in New York City backfired:

Convinced traditional discipline is racist because blacks are suspended at higher rates than whites, New York City’s Department of Education has in all but the most serious and dangerous offenses replaced out-of-school suspensions with a touchy-feely alternative punishment called “restorative justice,” which isn’t really punishment at all. It’s therapy.

“Every reasonable effort must be made to correct student behavior through…restorative practices,” advises the city’s new 32-page discipline code.

Except everywhere it’s been tried, this softer approach has backfired.

Yes, other large urban school districts are reporting fewer suspensions since adopting the non-punitive approach. But that doesn’t necessarily mean fewer infractions.

In fact, many districts are seeing more classroom disruptions and violence — a national trend that ought to set off warning bells for New York school officials.

While “restorative justice” isn’t Green Bay’s disciplinary policy, it sounds a lot like what Westcott describes is being practiced at Washington, intentionally or not. As Chicago fifth-grade teacher John Engels told the Chicago Tribune: “If you knew the cops weren’t going to enforce the speed limit…you’d go 100 miles an hour.” But Green Bay isn’t Chicago or New York or even Milwaukee, for that matter. Disciplinary and violence issues in public schools are far from secrets in those large metropolitan areas.  So why are the serious issues at Green Bay Washington Middle School that Westcott described not on the public radar screen. It appears that at least part of the problem is local media aren’t paying attention.

There are four television stations, one newspaper and one radio newsroom in Green Bay. Green Bay Press-Gazette Editor Robert Zizzo told us that they did not have a reporter at the June 5 school board meeting where Westcott made her statement. It appears that no other media outlet in the city did either. In fact, we only learned of it because someone sent us the video in an effort to get us to cover another issue raised at the meeting. We, by chance, continued viewing and saw Westcott’s impassioned plea for help. Media consolidation has led to dwindling human resources in markets around the country. That means local governmental meetings often go

All Green Bay Media outlets did report on this story, the day after we first reported on it..

A day after we first reported the story, the Green Bay Area Public School District issued a statement from Superintendent Michelle Langenfeld:

Statement from Dr. Langenfeld regarding Washington Middle School:

On behalf of the Green Bay Area Public School District, I would like to assure our families and community that safety is our highest priority. We have and continue to be committed to the Washington Middle School students, staff and families to ensure a positive learning environment. District administration and the Board of Education have taken all concerns brought forth seriously and have been working with Washington Middle School administration and staff to improve student behaviors and to address any safety concerns for both students and staff.

Executive Director of Secondary Education Tom Hoh, who supervises all secondary principals, has worked closely with Washington Middle School administrators to provide direction and support. As concerns emerged in the winter of 2017, a District office student success team was created that included administrators and staff from the departments of special education, teaching and learning, technology, and pupil services, who meet with Washington Middle School administrators on a regular basis to continue to strategize how to best support staff and students. These supports were implemented due to our recognition that additional resources were required to address student academic and behavior needs at Washington Middle School.

In early May, the Board of Education and administration became aware of the growing staff concerns similar to those shared by Ms. Westcott in June. Upon learning of these concerns, the Board of Education and District Administration took the concerns very seriously. In response, the following occurred:

• We held a meeting with staff.

• Mr. Hoh increased his time at Washington to provide daily on-site support.

• Two District office administrators were deployed daily to Washington Middle School until the end of the school year. Additional staff resources were also provided.

• A second meeting was held in June with Associate Superintendent John Magas, Director of Pupil Services Vicki Bayer and myself after Ms. Westcott’s address to the Board. The purpose of this second meeting was to listen to staff concerns following the infusion of the additional resources and to continue to strategize solutions. Staff reported concerns, but also reported improvements in behavior and reinforced their commitment to the students and families of Washington Middle School and to improving the environment at Washington.

Due to our observations and staff reporting improvement in student behavior based on the actions taken in the spring, the District will continue and expand our support of the efforts described above. The District’s plan for next school year, with input from staff and community, includes additional school administrators and staff to provide support with counseling, ELL and special education services, family engagement, and student behaviors.

Specifically, in response to Ms. Kerstin Westcott’s statement to the Board of Education on June 5, 2017, first, I would like to state that Ms. Westcott is an excellent teacher. I know this because I have been in her classroom as recently as April of this year, during an unannounced visit, where I found students to be engaged in learning. I also visited Washington Middle School two other times in May, and at those times I did not witness behaviors that would have raised concerns. So it is with deep sadness that Kerstin had not shared her concerns with me prior to her resignation in June.

I do think it is important to note that Washington Middle School staff and its students have many wonderful achievements and much to be proud of and we ask for our community’s support as we continue to ensure student success and a positive school culture for all.

The school district also responded to four specific questions we posed:

1) Were police called to any of the incidents Ms. Westcott described? I’m especially interested in the incident where she said students attempted to intentionally induce a life-threatening allergic reaction in a teacher. If police were not called into that incident, why not?

Washington Middle School shares two School Resource Officers with East High School. When it is appropriate for the police to be involved in a student situations, we are very fortunate to have highly trained and student-centered officers on-site and available to assist. As to the specifics of each incident, we are unable to provide any detail as student behavior records are confidential under Wis. Stat. 118.125 and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”).(WBAY TV in Green Bay reported that there 132 police calls to Washington Middle School in the 2016-17 school year and that the students involved in trying to induce an allergic reaction in a teacher were cited for disorderly conduct.)

2) Does Dr. Langenfeld or the district dispute any of Ms. Wetscott’s characterizations? I’m especially interested in her description of essentially locking herself and her students in her classroom to prevent roaming students from entering.

Dr. Langenfeld did have the opportunity to visit Ms. Westcott’s classroom on April 26, 2017, with the Washington principal during a visit to the school and observed students to be well behaved and engaged in learning. Please note that per Board of Education policy, classroom doors in all schools should be closed and locked during class time as part of our safety plan, modeled after the national ALICE safety program.  Dr. Langenfeld cannot comment on Ms. Westcott’s personally held experiences, but she herself did not observe behaviors that caused safety concerns on that visit or on subsequent visits to Washington Middle School.

3)Is Ms. Westcott correct when she says current disciplinary policy is not being enforced at Washington?

The District has a student expectation handbook and code of conduct, which provides students and their families information regarding the behaviors that are expected at school and potential disciplinary actions.  Disciplinary decisions are governed by Board of Education policy. The expectation is that school administrators address behaviors brought to their attention and that they work closely with their supervisor and the School Resource Officer when there is a serious offense.

4) Ms. Westcott depicts a years-long downward spiral of the environment at Washington and makes it clear administration has been aware of the issues. Has the safety environment at Washington been a top priority? If so, what actions have been taken beyond those described by Ms. Westcott.

Answered in Dr. Langenfeld’s statement.

Anatomy of a Smear

It was fall 2014. Appeals court judge Rebecca Bradley was being encouraged to challenge Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley in the April 2015 election. Winning a seat on the state’s high court would officially make Bradley’s rise as a judicial conservative meteoric. She met with pundits (your author included) and others as she explored a possible run. In the end, name confusion with another Justice Bradley and other factors led her to decide against entering the race. It was also widely believed at the time that Justice N. Patrick Crooks wouldn’t be seeking re-election in 2016 and an open seat is a much more attractive option. Bradley may have bowed out of the 2015 race, but she would come to learn that even considering a run had put her on the Wisconsin media radar:

I…found out from several friends and even some people that I didn’t know very well, that there was a reporter from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel who had contacted a number of prominent people in positions of power and influence to ask them if they knew anything about an alleged affair I was having with a (married) public figure in Milwaukee. Of course there was no basis for it whatsoever. But there was obviously an attempt to harm my reputation around the state of Wisconsin before I had even decided to run for the court.

Intended or not, the reporter’s inquiries  likely served to spread an unsubtantiated rumor to people who had never heard it before. “And the people who called me, who had been called, or knew somebody and had  talked to somebody who had been called said ‘what are you talking about, this isn’t true, ‘” Bradley told us.

State supreme court races had become blood sport in recent years, especially the 2011 race in the heat of the Act 10 debate. And if the idea of Circuit Court Judge Bradley as an attractive high court candidate continuing the conservative winning streak frustrated the left, it was about to go ballistic over two career advances she would realize in 2015.

Bradley was appointed to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court  by Governor Scott Walker  in December, 2012.  The following April she was elected to a full term, a victory that surprised many observers. In May, 2015, Walker appointed Bradley to fill an appeals court vacancy created by the death of Judge Ralph Adam Fine. Less than six months later, in October, Walker appointed Bradley to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, following the death of Justice N. Patrick Crooks. Crooks had previously announced his retirement and Bradley was an announced candidate for the seat. The appointment had the left seething:

(Walker) is giving a campaign contributor an unfair advantage in the race next year so Wisconsin residents will have no chance at having an open and fair election for the Supreme Court Justice seat,” charged Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Martha Laning in a prepared statement. Rebecca Bradley has given … to Gov. Walker and today it is paying off for her with her appointment to the Supreme Court.”

 

But Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, warned that Bradley’s appointment could backfire: “The governor making this appointment so close to the election does not serve the public well but is in line with Republicans’ continued right-wing special interest stranglehold on our state. However, I question why a judicial candidate would want to be so closely linked to a governor with a 37 percent approval rating.”

In December 2015, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported on the results of an open records request by the liberal group One Wisconsin Now under the headline: “Justice Rebecca Bradley’s Meeting Calendar’s Empty for 21/2 Years.” Bradley told us she attempted to explain to a Journal-Sentinel reporter why the calendars produced in the request were blank:

“In fact, I stood face to face with Patrick Marley and explained how the calendaring system works for a Milwaukee Circuit Court judge and why those calendars were not available to me. And he listened and seemed to understand and then reported absolutely nothing of my explanation, but suggested in an article, in accordance with what One Wisconsin Now was trying to say about me, that I submitted false  records to them.”

Media Trackers reached out to Marley for comment. He responded via email:

I bumped into Justice Bradley and we discussed her calendars for a few minutes. She indicated she was happy to talk about her calendars more fully in a later interview, but then did not respond to my further inquiries on the issue.

 

For my story, I used statements from court officials making the same points about her calendar that Justice Bradley had made when we talked.

 

In our brief conversation, Justice Bradley discussed the system used to keep track of court hearings, but not the types of calendar entries I had been asking about — meetings with state and county officials or people from the private sector about the court budget, court security, court access or other court functions. I still do not know how she keeps track of such meetings or why she didn’t release documents showing when such meetings were held.

Bradley’s recollection of their conversation, also shared via e-mail, is dramatically different:

Apparently Patrick’s memory is poor. I told him that while I was at children’s court, I didn’t have time for the types of meetings he for some reason assumes all judges have (but don’t). Children’s court is a very demanding docket in Milwaukee County. When I did have administrative type meetings, those were all put on my official judicial calendar; otherwise, a court hearing would have been scheduled. Every minute was scheduled from 8:30-5 with cases and even then most of us were over-scheduled. Children’s court calendars are confidential by statute so he and OWN(One Wisconsin Now) cannot obtain them.

 

Regardless, I no longer had access to them at the time of the open records request, which was made when I was at the court of appeals. While I was there, I did not have any administrative type of meetings but Patrick couldn’t seem to understand that. He didn’t seem to understand the nature of our work there.  As for the types of meetings he mentioned in his response to you–“meetings with state and county officials or people from the private sector about the court budget, court security, court access or other court functions” I simply didn’t have any such meetings except as I mentioned at children’s court, for which I didn’t have access to my calendars anymore. I imagine chief judges of judicial districts might have some of these types of meetings although to my knowledge, judges don’t meet with people from the private sector about the court budget or court functions. Why would we?

 

He received the official supreme court calendar that contained official court meetings. It is during those court meetings that the justices would meet with others–most often our own staff–about topics like court budget or security. It seems to me that Patrick and the newspaper for which he writes generally misunderstand the judicial role, on this topic and others.”

Marley did quote One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross: “Either Rebecca Bradley wasn’t working very hard or she’s hiding who she was meeting with and what she was doing on taxpayer time.”

As the April contest with appellate court judge JoAnne Kloppenburg neared, Bradley found herself under a media microscope. In early March, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel ran a story detailing some writings of Bradley from 1992 while at Marquette University. Some of the writings were clearly insensitive to the LGBTQ community. Others mocked supporters of future President Bill Clinton.  The writings were unearthed, to use the Journal-Sentinel’s term, by One Wisconsin Now. The group used its efforts against Bradley in a fundraising email:

This is urgent, Friend,

 

One Wisconsin Now has received an outpouring of support from so many of you, thanking us for exposing the hate speech from Gov. Scott Walker’s hand-picked Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley. But now, after spending weeks trying to sweep the story under the rug, Rebecca Bradley and her Republican allies are spreading lies about us.

 

This is just MORE evidence that Rebecca Bradley can’t be trusted to uphold the basic tenets of our judicial system, and just one more reason to support One Wisconsin Now’s effort to hold her accountable.

 

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Rebecca Bradley has denied people their dignity because they are different than her, condemns people that hold political beliefs other than hers and touts views on women’s health that are not just out of step but dangerous for Wisconsin families. And now, in an apparent effort to deflect criticism, she’s resorted to spreading lies about our organization.

 

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Bradley apologized for the writings. She said they embarrassed her and did not reflect her current feelings about the LGBT community. Not only did critics not accept her change of heart; some attempted to portray the comments as contemporary.  “Frankly, I was mortified by what I had written and regretted it deeply. But that wasn’t enough for them. And in fact, many outlets tried to portray it as if I had just said these things a couple of years ago, or even yesterday, when it had been almost a quarter century.” The event earned national media coverage.

“Actually, on a national basis,(MSNBC host) Rachel Maddow, among others, went after me nationally, to the point where the then-Democrat candidates for the presidency were attacking me publicly. I never thought I would hear Hillary Clinton say my name, but there it was.” If Bradley was taken aback by a call-out from the eventual Democratic presidential nominee, she couldn’t have been prepared for what was about to come next; a Journal-Sentinel story so salacious and misleading that many media outlets in the state chose not to run it.

On March 10, 2016, the Journal-Sentinel ran a story with the headline :”Bradley Extramarital Affair, Role in Child Placement Surface.” The goal of any online headline is to get the viewer to click on the story. A headline screaming that Bradley had an affair and apparently had some inappropriate role in the placement of a child is what is often referred to as “click-bait.” And as is often the case with click-bait, the story didn’t deliver on the headline.

The story was about Bradley representing a former co-worker, with whom Bradley had been romantically involved, in a child custody case. Bradley would make it clear that the relationship with her client began after she and her husband at the time had separated, but not divorced. The Journal-Sentinel reported that, according to court records, Bradley “acknowledged having had an extramarital affair” with this client. In fact, that characterization was exclusively the Journal-Sentinel’s. Bradley never described her relationship with the client as an “extra-marital affair,” nor does she consider it one.

“It was absolutely fake and it was intentionally done,” Bradley told us. “They contacted my ex-husband who explained that we were separated at the time and I was doing what many people do when they are going through a divorce; it’s dating. They painted it as something else, even though my former husband, with whom I’m on great terms, explained to them ‘this is simply not true,’ and they went with it anyway.” The Journal-Sentinel March 10, 2016 story contains a single line indicating that Bradley’s ex-husband said they were living in separate residences at the time of her relationship with the man she would later represent in court.

Bradley stressed that she disclosed a romantic relationship with the client, not an “extra-marital affair.” The distinction is important because the Journal-Sentinel’s reporting strongly implies that Bradley characterized it as an affair. The judge in the case rejected an attempt to remove Bradley.

And Bradley points out in the year plus since the story was reported, she’s learned that many people outside the Milwaukee area aren’t even aware of it. “Because multiple media outlets refused to cover it; they thought it was beyond the pale, and it was.” Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editor George Stanley didn’t see it that way.

In responding to readers who cancelled their subscriptions due to paper’s coverage of Bradley, Stanley not only defended the reporting but also largely re-reported the salacious story his paper had published. He also claimed Bradley’s personal life was fair game because she brought up President Bill Clinton’s marital infidelity in her 1992 college writings. (you can read Stanley’s letter to readers below). Clinton, of course, would ultimately be forced to admit marital infidelity years after Bradley’s writing.

The story also strongly implied that the paper’s discoveries about Bradley showed an inadequate vetting process on Walker’s part when he appointed her to the high court:

The matter raises questions (in the Journal-Sentinel’s estimation) about the vetting process used by Walker, who has acknowledged he was unaware of college newspaper writings by Bradley in which she condemned “queers and addicts for essentially killing themselves through their conduct.

The Journal-Sentinel found two attorneys; one in New York and another in Arizona who said there were potential ethical issues with Bradley representing someone with whom she was romantically involved. Appleton attorney Will McKinley told Media Trackers it’s noteworthy that the paper couldn’t find any attorney in Wisconsin to say that:

Very. There are a number of professors at Marquette and UW-Law schools who teach legal ethics. These are not practicing lawyers who have any particular reason to fear giving an opinion regarding a judge. Further, you ask any lawyer in Wisconsin for an in-state referral for an expert on ethics and they’ll give you at least two names. There are individuals who regularly speak on lawyer ethics. The point is that asking a non-Wisconsin lawyer about the ethical rules governing Wisconsin seems suspect.

McKinley is Vice Chair of the State Bar of Wisconsin Ethics Committee, but he made it clear to Media Trackers that he was not speaking in that capacity and was merely offering his own opinion  on the Bradley matter as an attorney.

Bradley levels most of her criticism at the Journal-Sentinel. But the Green Bay Press-Gazette had to claw back something it published about Bradley in the closing days of the campaign. The paper published in print and online a letter to the editor that claimed that Bradley had actors posing as law enforcement officials in her television commercials. This allegation was false; the people in the ads were very real. After a day of denial,  Editor Robert Zizzo finally admitted they had not vetted the letter. A correction was run in print and the letter was pulled from the paper’s website.

Bradley says she can now look back and laugh at the way the media treated her. We asked if at any point during the campaign she regretted running. She said she regretted what family and friends had to endure. Shortly after our interview with Bradley, Justice Michael Gableman announced he won’t be seeking re-election in 2018. We asked Bradley what advice she would offer to a judicial conservative seeking the seat:

“Well, he (Gableman) went through a tough race nine years ago. But when I look back to what the criticisms were, the attacks were on him, they really weren’t personal.  They related more to his professional life and some campaign ads his campaign ran against his opponent. And my advice to an judicial conservative would be to be prepared for the personal attacks. Because as low as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel got, I wouldn’t expect them to deviate from that plan.”