Wisconsin Supreme Court chief justice accuses liberals of ‘raw exercise of overreaching power’

Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Annette Ziegler listens to arguments
Wisconsin Chief Justice Annette Ziegler, pictured in 2013.
(M.P. King / Associated Press)

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 their second day as a majority on a court that was under conservative control for 15 years, voted to fire Randy Koschnick. He had held the job for six years after serving 18 years as a judge and running unsuccessfully as a conservative in 2009 against the state’s then-Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, a liberal.

“To say that I am disappointed in my colleagues is an understatement,” Chief Justice Annette Ziegler, a member of the three-justice conservative minority, said in a lengthy statement after Koschnick was fired.


She said the move undermined her authority as chief justice, and called it unauthorized, legally and procedurally flawed, and reckless. But she said she would not attempt to stop it out of fear that other court employees might also be fired.

A Democratic-backed Milwaukee judge has won the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, ensuring liberals will take over majority control for the first time in 15 years.

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“My colleagues’ unprecedented dangerous conduct is the raw exercise of overreaching power,” Ziegler said. “It is shameful. I fear this is only the beginning.”

Her fellow conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley decried 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 would serve as the interim director of state courts beginning Thursday. She will take a leave from the circuit court, where she has served since her appointment by former Gov. Scott Walker, a conservative Republican, in 2018.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has rejected President Trump’s lawsuit attempting to overturn his loss to President-elect Joe Biden in the battleground state.

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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 fire the director of state courts at that time, John Voelker. He remained for six more years before resigning.


Ziegler praised Koschnick for his years as a judge and his efforts as director of the court system, a job that includes hiring personnel and maintaining the courts’ statewide computer system. 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 height of 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 an 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.