Disrespectful Justice

This afternoon, I had the opportunity to attend the Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates’ debate sponsored by the Dane County Bar Association between incumbent Justice Rebecca Bradley, who was recently appointed to an open seat by Gov. Scott Walker, and Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg. As both candidates covered familiar ground, I did not expect to learn anything new that would result in my writing a blog post. After all, I have recently written another post about this campaign, and I have publicly endorsed Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, whom I have known for her entire legal career.


Justice Rebecca Bradley


Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg

However, towards the end of the debate, Justice Bradley was asked about the well publicized time when she walked out of oral argument before it was finished in order to give a campaign speech to a conservative business group. While I certainly did not expect her to apologize or admit that she had done anything wrong, since she has defended her decision to depart from oral argument early, her response made me realize that Justice Rebecca Bradley truly does not understand how her actions impact upon attorneys and litigants.

She told a large group of attorneys that she, “could not have learned anything else,” if she had stayed for the final 15 minutes of oral argument because she had already asked all the questions she had, and that she watched the video recording of the argument she missed afterwards.

I was stunned. Justice Rebecca Bradley admitted to a large group of attorneys that it was unfathomable for any further questioning from the other 6 Supreme Court Justices, or any of the answers from either attorney for the party to educate her in any way. This is simply the height of pomposity and egotism. As someone who has practiced law for over 30 years and has presented appellate oral argument many times, it is abundantly clear to me that many appellate judges think of new or follow up questions based on a colleague’s question, or an attorney’s answer. Apparently, Justice Rebecca Bradley cannot conceive of that possibility and felt that it was more important to give a campaign speech.

As if that was not audacious enough, Justice Rebecca Bradley went one step further to reveal that she has very little respect for the parties in legal proceedings. When pressed about the possibility that she might have learned something new during the portion of the argument she missed, she said that if she felt that was the case after watching the video, she would have required the parties to return to the Supreme Court for additional oral argument.

Once again, I was stunned. Is she completely unaware of the cost to the parties to require attorneys to prepare for and present oral argument a second time, just because she had to make a campaign speech instead of doing what she was appointed to do? As a practicing attorney, I know that the additional cost would have been in the thousands of dollars. Of course, her request would have also delayed the proceedings and final decision, raising anxiety for both parties in the process and delaying the ultimate outcome.

After you strip away all the campaign rhetoric, Judge Rebecca Bradley‘s answers defending her inexcusable departure from oral argument to give a campaign speech makes one thing perfectly clear: she does not respect the people who come before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and on that basis alone, she does not deserve to win the upcoming election to a 10 year term on that court.


For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact him by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.



Respect: Where Systems Change Starts

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, said it best in her anthem, Respect, written by the late, great, Otis Redding.

All I’m askin’
Is for a little respect

In my nearly 3 decades of civil rights work seeking systems change for a better world for many disenfranchised people, the lack of respect for basic human rights is what repeatedly brings clients to me seeking help.

Many years ago, I was meeting with Wisconsin Native American leaders from the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council.  I asked them how best non-Natives could work with them.  They gave a simple and quite appropriate response: “Just give us respect.”

While it seems simple, the sad truth is that our world would not be in the sorry state that it is in, if everyone simply respected everyone else’s right to live life with basic human decency. Just imagine a world where:

  • Elders were treated respectfully instead of with the disdain that results in abusive treatment in many nursing homes;
  • People with disabilities were treated respectfully so that they could obtain a quality education and good employment and health care;
  • People of color were not subjected to the disrespect of racial profiling demeaning them on a daily basis;
  • and of course, the list could go on & on.

recent study of 26 high-achieving, high-poverty schools in Texas bolsters decades of effective schools research. Effective schools exhibited the following characteristics: a strong focus on ensuring academic success for each student; a refusal to accept excuses for poor performance; a willingness to experiment with a variety of strategies; intensive and sustained efforts to involve parents and the community; an environment of mutual respect and collaboration; and a passion for continuous improvement and professional growth.

When I am successful on behalf of my clients, I not only obtain justice for my clients, but a new found respect from their former adversary. It is this respect that brings real systems change.

It really does not matter what the environment is because respect is the root of progress. Indeed, business leaders recognize that a workplace without respect cannot succeed. All leaders must build a culture of respect.  To do so, they must:

  • Teach respect.
  • Adapt respect to the environment.
  • Model respect, and
  • Praise respect.

Whether in school, the work place, or on the street, increasing respect for each other can only improve the human condition.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.