Milwaukee County Judge Joe Donald once supported state Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley, one of his rivals in this year’s race for the high court.
Donald was listed as a reference on Bradley’s application for an appointment to the court of appeals in 2015 and endorsed her in a 2013 campaign to retain her seat as a Milwaukee County judge, the political website WisPolitics first reported Friday. Donald told WisPolitics he has since been “bamboozled” by Bradley.
“I really thought she was about being a trial court judge,” Donald said. “It became apparent that it had nothing to do with it, that this was clearly a process to put her in place to put her on the Supreme Court.”
Gov. Scott Walker appointed Bradley to the Supreme Court last fall, following the death of Justice N. Patrick Crooks. The appointment came after Walker in 2012 appointed her to the Milwaukee County bench, and again to the District 1 Court of Appeals in May 2015.
Donald did not return a phone call seeking comment. Campaign spokesman Andy Suchorski said in an interview that Donald supplied the reference because he was essentially a supervisor of Bradley, and that his endorsement in 2013 was part of a common practice on the part of judges to support incumbents.
But Bradley in an interview said Donald offered his endorsement during her circuit court race unsolicited.
“He’s always been supportive of my judicial career and a friend to me,” Bradley said. “And, to me, this sounds like his campaign talking.”
Donald told WisPolitics he also was a reference for Judge Timothy Dugan, who applied for the post.
In that reference, Donald wrote to Walker that “In your review of all the candidates I can only hope that you will arrive at the same conclusion: that Tim will make a fantastic Court of Appeals judge.”
In an interview with the State Journal last week, Donald emphasized his desire to be an independent candidate and not one “created” to support conservatives or liberals, though he has drawn broad support from Democrats. Donald was first appointed to his seat by former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson.
Bradley — appointed to a temporary seat on the state’s highest court by Walker — will face Donald and State Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg in a Feb. 16 primary for a permanent seat. The top two vote-getters will face off in the general election April 5.
Kloppenburg spokeswoman Melissa Mulliken said Donald’s past support of Bradley and his explanation “raise troubling questions.”
“He allowed Rebecca Bradley to use his name as a reference, but when asked by the governor’s office he gave a better reference to another applicant for the same job?” she asked. “He was ‘bamboozled’ into supporting Rebecca Bradley a year ago because he didn’t understand who she was?”
Suchorski said it’s “untrue” Donald supported Bradley twice.
“The Kloppenburg campaign is grasping at straws here,” he said.