The Randy Koschnick firing, which happened Wednesday, has sparked strong condemnation from the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative justices.
Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Annette Ziegler slammed the new liberal majority’s firing of respected State Courts Director Randy Koschnick Wednesday, calling it “reckless conduct” and an “unauthorized action.”
Ziegler said she wouldn’t seek to stop the firing because she worried that other court employees will be unfairly targeted and victimized by liberal justices Jill Karofsky, Janet Protasiewicz, Ann Walsh Bradley, and Rebecca Dallet.
In the statement given to Wispolitics, Ziegler called the firing an “unauthorized action,” writing:
“The unauthorized action taken today by some of my colleagues firing Director of State Courts Randy Koschnick is flawed procedurally, legally, and on its merits. As Chief Justice, I contemplated actions I might take to attempt to stop this unauthorized action, but given my colleagues’ reckless conduct, other court employees would also become victims of this unauthorized action. I say this because it would be other court employees who would suffer the consequences of choosing to follow my directive over following the demand of four justices. And these valued employees may then be at risk of losing their jobs. Our valued employees would be put in a lose-lose situation, and I can’t risk putting the jobs of more employees of the court in jeopardy.”
Her full statement is 2 pages long. You can read it at the end of this story.
Previously, the other conservative justice, Rebecca Bradley, called Koschnick’s firing a political purge and “abuse of power” that is “unprecedented and illegitimate.”
Koschnick confirmed to Wisconsin Right Now that he was fired Wednesday in a letter sent to him by Bradley on August 2, 2023. WRN obtained that letter. It says: “This letter is to inform you that your appointment to the unclassified position of Director of State Courts will be ending on August 2, 2023. You are encouraged to work with Human Resources on any benefits-related questions you have, including paying out any unused accrued annual leave hours. We appreciate the contributions you have made to the Wisconsin Supreme Court and wish you the best in your future endeavor.”
The letter does not cite a reason for Koschnick’s termination; he has been a respected courts director who recently won an innovator award from the State Bar. Koschnick, who ran as a conservative for state Supreme Court against liberal Justice Shirley Abrahamson years ago, told WRN that “Justice Karofsky ordered staff to box up my personal belongings today. She refuses to wait until tomorrow. There is no dignity and no respect.”
Koschnick, a former Chief Judge of Waukesha, Jefferson, Washington and Ozaukee Counties, was appointed in 2017 to be State Courts Director, a non-partisan position, by the then conservative Supreme Court majority.
Thus, his unexplained firing smacks to many of political partisanship, a political purge if you will, by the state’s highest court, which is supposed to operate in an apolitical fashion.
Koschnick previously told WRN that Karofsky called him Monday, the day before Protasiewicz was sworn in cementing the new liberal majority, and told him the liberals had enough votes to fire him. He said the action did not follow typical protocol; there was no meeting scheduled, conservative justices were not even told, there was no agenda, and there was no reason given. He is out of state until Thursday, and was not given a chance to speak in his own defense.
After that report, conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley issued her own harshly worded statement condemning the liberal majority’s action, and a number of legislators praised Koschnick for his award-winning and innovative tenure.
Bradley said in full: “Political purges of court employees are beyond the pale. Four or five justices secretly voting on court matters without the court actually meeting breaches universal judicial norms. This abuse of power is unprecedented and illegitimate. It should be condemned by all judges.”
FULL STATEMENT OF ANNETTE ZIEGLER
The unauthorized action taken today by some of my colleagues firing Director of State Courts Randy Koschnick is flawed procedurally, legally, and on its merits. As Chief Justice, I contemplated actions I might take to attempt to stop this unauthorized action, but given my colleagues’ reckless conduct, other court employees would also become victims of this unauthorized action. I say this because it would be other court employees who would suffer the consequences of choosing to follow my directive over following the demand of four justices.
And these valued employees may then be at risk of losing their jobs. Our valued employees would be put in a lose-lose situation, and I can’t risk putting the jobs of more employees of the court in jeopardy. We are a collegial court, not a court of four. I expect better of my colleagues. A vote of four may dictate decisions of our court, but those votes are taken during formally noticed court conferences scheduled by the Chief Justice; no such conference has occurred. This action is procedurally flawed in at least that respect. It is also not how a collegial court decides matters and is dysfunctional at best. Court conferences are not just window dressing. They are part of the deliberative process, and that deliberative process has been completely usurped by this overreach today. Apparently several of my colleagues do not think court conferences are necessary to conduct court business when there is a pre-ordained determination. Their actions today effectively silence those members of the court who have not been privy to these secret discussions.
This unauthorized action is also legally flawed for a number of reasons. Seemingly, the unauthorized action to fire Director Koschnick was made without regard for the Constitution, case law, or supreme court rules which address who can fill such a position of public trust. Moreover, as I stated earlier, this decision impacts more than Director Koschnick. It impacts the many valued, devoted, hardworking employees in the court system who are likely left wondering who and what is next? Our courts deserve stability. This type of action has never occurred simply because a new justice secures a new majority, whether liberal or conservative. Certainly, when former Justice Michael Gableman won his seat in 2008, the court did not fire then-Director of State Courts A. John Voelker. In fact, Mr. Voelker stayed on for many years until he resigned after accepting a position with the Department of Employee Trust Funds in the summer of 2014.
On the merits, this decision is unwise. Director Koschnick has completed 18 years of judicial service in a court of general jurisdiction, and was the administrative head of District 3 for five years as chief judge. He was a well-respected lawyer who served the public before becoming a judge. He has served as Director of State Courts since August 1, 2017. He has done his job well, and he is someone I depend on to fulfill his role in a non-partisan, non-political manner. He has had only what is best for the court system in mind when he acting as director. For example, I have prioritized a mental health initiative to address the significant mental health needs of the many people in Wisconsin who enter the court system. He has been devoted to undertaking these efforts with me. He was instrumental in planning and helping to coordinate the Chief Justice’s Summit on Mental Health which took place in Madison on April 21, 2023. In addition, Director Koschnick has largely resolved the longstanding court reporter shortage crisis in the Wisconsin circuit courts. Moreover, he has been honored by the State Bar of Wisconsin for his innovative efforts to keep the courts running during COVID. He has always conducted himself with dignity and respect and is an asset to me as Chief Justice, and to the entire court system.
And what is the rush to fire Director Koschnick? What is the purpose of doing such an unauthorized action as the first order of business for the 2023-24 term? I have not been made aware of any urgent issues that would require the immediate removal of Director Koschnick. Whether there are requisite votes to do so is not a reason to eliminate input from all members of the court in conference, properly noticed by the Chief Justice.
Allowing all seven justices the opportunity to be heard and having the benefit of thoughtful discussion and debate before a formal vote is taken is key to a properly functioning court. Even as Chief Justice, I have only one vote. The court’s action today violates the Wisconsin Constitution which endows the Chief Justice with administrative authority. The authority of the Chief Justice is being undermined and eroded unlike any time in this court’s history. The court has had different shifts in make-up over the years, but this lack of respect for longstanding institutional process is reckless. To say that I am disappointed in my colleagues is an understatement. My colleagues’ unprecedented dangerous conduct is the raw exercise of overreaching power. It is shameful. I fear this is only the beginning.