Randy R. Koschnick, 48, was born in Milwaukee, graduated from Whitefish Bay High School, got a Bachelors of Science degree from the UW-Stevens Point and law degree from Hamline University Law School, in Minnesota. He worked as an intern in the Hennepin County Attorney's Office, assisting prosecutors, and spent 14 years as a public defender in La Crosse and Jefferson counties. He was elected to the Jefferson County circuit court in 1999 and re-elected in 2005. The position he seeks, Supreme Court associate justice, pays $144,495 a year.
Koschnick served on the state Assembly's Criminal Justice Reforms Task Force, which recommended legislation to improve evidentiary procedures, with the goal of reducing wrongful convictions. As a circuit court judge he has worked to expedite the handling of cases, earning a 2008 "Leaders in the Law" award from the Wisconsin Law Journal; he believes some of these reforms can be implemented statewide. (For more information, see www.koschnickforjustice.com.)
Critics are quick to point out Koschnick's affiliations with conservative causes, but he insists his personal beliefs are not relevant to how he'll decide cases. He says he'll be guided by the facts and the law, not ideology.
Koschnick came to an interview at Isthmus accompanied by campaign advisor Seamus Flaherty, who recorded the encounter. Isthmus also used a tape recorder. The following abridged version, checked with Koschnick's campaign for accuracy, mostly omits topics covered in Isthmus' main story on the race.
Bill Lueders: How would you define the choice between yourself and Shirley Abrahamson?
Koschnick: I have great deal respect for Justice Abrahamson. I have known her for over 20 years. She's very hard-working, she's very intelligent. She and I have different judicial philosophies. I consider us to be at opposite ends of the spectrum.
I am a judicial conservative. I don't believe it is proper for justices to legislate from the bench, or engage in activism, either on behalf of liberal political viewpoints or conservative political viewpoints. I would classify U.S. Supreme Court Justices [John] Roberts, [Antonin] Scalia and [Clarence] Thomas as being in the same school of thought: judicial conservativism. I view Justice Abrahamson as basically an activist judge, and I would put John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsberg in that school of thought.
What's the difference?
The activists tend to view the Constitution as more of living, breathing dynamic document that is subject to very broad interpretation.
Don't judicial conservatives also interpret the Constitution? Isn't that what the Supreme Court does?
It is a question of degree. If the text is unambiguous, I apply it the way it's written, whether I agree with it or not -- strict constructionism. If the Constitution is silent on a topic, then you should defer to the Legislature.
The Constitution is a core document, with our core principles. I don't think it was intended to be an evolving statutory animal. Activist judges usurp the power of the Legislature; they erode the checks and the balances that are in place.
Justice Abrahamson has served on the state Supreme Court for more than three decades. Do you dispute that she has more experience than you do?
She has more experience in deciding Supreme Court cases, but I have more experience, legal experience, than she did when she was first appointed. [Koschnick cites his 14 years as a lawyer and ten as a judge.] Experience is one thing to consider; but I think judicial philosophy is the primary criterion.
You've criticized the incumbent for taking stands in favor of criminal defendants. Are you saying that as a member of the court you would never put the interests of criminal defendants over those of the state?
No. I was a public defender for 14 years. I fully respect the Bill of Rights and the importance of defendants' rights being protected. What I was saying in pointing out Justice Abrahamson's voting record is she is way out of the mainstream, even with other justices, by voting predictably with the defense, and going out of her way, apparently, to decide cases that way. And the effect is that she ties the hands of law enforcement.
[Koschnick describes a case in which the Supreme Court issued a new standard for eyewitness identifications, after hearing a case in which police used a technique it deemed impermissively suggestive, thus contrary to existing standards.]
What should it have done?
In the case, if [the identification technique] was impermissibly suggestive, throw I out, and ... encourage the Legislature to create a statutory requirement, and say "We recommend the following procedure...." They do that all the time.
Judicial conservatives would have said: We're dealing with the case before us, and we're going to decide this case only. We're not going to prescribe some far-reaching policy from this point forward.
How much do you intend to spend?
We're expecting to raise between two- and -three-hundred-thousand dollars.