The conservative chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court accused her liberal colleagues of a “raw exercise of overreaching power” after they flexed their new majority Wednesday and fired the director of the state’s court system.
The four liberal justices, on just their second day as a majority on the court after 15 years under conservative control, voted to fire Randy Koschnick. Koschnick held the job for six years after serving for 18 years as a judge and running unsuccessfully as a conservative in 2009 against then-Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, a liberal.
“To say that I am disappointed in my colleagues is an understatement,” Chief Justice Annette Ziegler, now a member of the three-justice conservative minority, said in a lengthy statement after Koschnick was fired.
Ziegler said the move undermined her authority as chief justice. She called it unauthorized, procedurally and legally flawed, and reckless. But she said she would not attempt to stop it out of fear that other court employees could be similarly fired.
“My colleagues’ unprecedented dangerous conduct is the raw exercise of overreaching power,” she said. “It is shameful. I fear this is only the beginning.”
Fellow conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley blasted the move in a social media post, saying, “Political purges of court employees are beyond the pale.”
Koschnick called the move “apparently political.”
“I think that portends bad things for the court’s decision making going forward,” he said.
The court announced Wednesday evening that Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Audrey Skwierawski will serve as the interim director of state courts beginning Thursday. Skwierawski will take a leave from her position on the circuit court, where she has served since her appointment by former Gov. Scott Walker in 2018, it said.
The justices who voted to fire Koschnick did not respond to a request for comment left with the court’s spokesperson.
Ziegler noted that when conservatives took control of the court in 2008, they did not act to fire the director of state courts at that time, John Voelker. He remained in the position for six more years before resigning.
Ziegler praised Koschnick for his 18 years as a judge and his efforts as director of the state court system, a job that includes hiring court personnel and maintaining the statewide computer system for courts. She also applauded him for addressing the mental health needs of people in the court system, tackling a court reporter shortage and keeping courts operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Koschnick said he could have accepted his firing — and ensured a smoother transition with his successor — if the justices had waited to do it at a planned administrative meeting next month. Instead, he said, court workers are boxing up his personal belongings while he is in New York at a judicial conference.
“It creates a really unstable workplace,” he said.