By Mark Belling, WISN-AM
The Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court barred Waukesha County Circuit Judge Brad Schimel from conducting in-person court proceedings for week and the order was not rescinded until last week. The order was a result of a complaint that Schimel was not following a Supreme Court order that all individuals in Wisconsin courts wear masks.
Chief Justice Pat Roggensack directed the chief judge for Waukesha County, Jennifer Dorow, to order Schimel to hold all of his court sessions via remote video. Schimel filed a formal appeal of the ruling, citing a medical condition that makes it difficult for him to wear a mask and pointing out that he had rigged his courtroom with plexiglass and enforced social distancing. Roggensack didn’t budge. Schimel agreed to wear a mask and the order was lifted last week.
The behind the scenes machinations here are fascinating. Roggensack is the leader of the Supreme Court’s conservative wing. Schimel was for eight years the Republican Attorney General of Wisconsin. Dorow, the chief judge caught in the middle of Roggensack’s snit over Schimel’s non-mask wearing, is a possible candidate for the Supreme Court in a future election.
Schimel has attempted to find out who complained to Roggensack but has not been given an answer. However, numerous court sources tell me this all occurred after the head of the State Office of Public Defender, Kelli Thompson, complained to Roggensack that Schimel wasn’t wearing a mask. These sources tell me Thompson was responding to complaints by public defenders in Waukesha County that Schimel was not wearing a mask.
Kelli Thompson is the daughter of UW System President and former Governor Tommy Thompson. In other words, this giant commotion over Schimel and his mask wearing has involved some of the biggest names in Wisconsin Republican and conservative politics.
The Supreme Court issued an order in March that everybody in Wisconsin courtrooms has to wear a mask. The order is unrelated to the separate state mask mandate issued by Governor Tony Evers. That mandate is being challenged in court and is headed to the Supreme Court but given Roggensack’s apparent obsession with mask wearing, one wonders if the challenge has a chance.
As for Schimel, he indicated his willingness to wear a face shield and put up plexiglass barriers throughout his court. None of that was good enough for Roggensack. Schimel has agreed to wear a mask and on October 5 Roggensack directed Judge Dorow to allow Schimel to resume in-person court sessions.
No word on whether Roggensack will be changing her name to Karen.