Wisconsin Chief Justice Ousted in Email Election

     MADISON, Wis. (CN) – The Wisconsin Supreme Court voted Wednesday to oust its longtime chief justice using a new scheme that overhauled the seniority-based system.
     Chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court since 1996 based on seniority, Shirley Abrahamson’s position has been in limbo since April 7 when voters narrowly passed a ballot measure that adopted a vote-based selection system.
     With her term not scheduled to end until 2019, Abrahamson told a federal judge that the ballot measure deprives her of property rights to her chief status and accompanying salary.
     With opponents pushing to subject Abrahamson to an immediate vote by the other six justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court in accordance with the new law, U.S. District Judge James Peterson denied Abrahamson a restraining order last week.
     For the first time in the state’s history, the court employed the new vote system on Wednesday, tapping Justice Patience Drake Roggensack replace Abrahamson as chief.
     Roggensack was one of four justices who participated in the email vote, and she accepted the position by email as well, according to a letter by Abrahamson’s attorney Robert Peck to the judge presiding over their federal case.
     The other justices who voted for Roggensack were Justices Ziegler, Gableman and Prosser, while Justices Bradley, Crooks and Abrahamson “objected to the procedure and did not vote,” Peck’s report states.
     “The court, of course, has no procedure for election of a chief justice,” Peck wrote. “Plaintiffs continue to believe that there is no vacancy to be filled and that Plaintiff Shirley S. Abrahamson properly holds the office of chief justice.”
     The vote came swiftly after the state elections board certified the results Wednesday of the April election in which the ballot measure passed.
     Abrahamson’s federal case is set for a May 15 hearing on a temporary injunction.
     The court information officer released a statement at 5:30 p.m. Thursday on Roggensack’s election, effective May 1.
     It says Roggensack was first elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2003, after seven years with the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.
     The University of Wisconsin Law School alumna is quoted in the statement as saying that she looks “forward to serving the people of Wisconsin” as chief.
     After discussing her role in various court reforms – such as giving all justices “broad access to financial information that affects the court system” – Roggensack said she will not take the salary bonus that the court pays to chief justices.
     “Although I am entitled to additional salary of $8,000 per year for my services as chief justice, I have instructed court payroll that I am donating all of that additional compensation to the Access to Justice Commission, which arranges civil legal services for those persons who are unable to afford them,” Roggensack said.
     Justice Abrahamson did not respond to a request for comment.

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