Liberal Wisconsin Supreme Court Nominee A No-Show At Debate

Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz's record under scrutiny for being too lenient on criminals

Judge Janet Protasiewicz
March 15, 2023

The liberal judge running for Wisconsin Supreme Court skipped a candidate forum hosted by the Milwaukee Press Club on Tuesday as she faces questions about her record of releasing violent criminals and sex offenders back on the streets.

Milwaukee County circuit judge Janet Protasiewicz "declined an invitation citing scheduling conflicts," giving conservative candidate Dan Kelly the entire stage, according to the Milwaukee Press Club. The group reportedly extended the invitation to both campaigns in February.

Protasiewicz’s absence comes as she has faced criticism for her light sentencing record. Protasiewicz also solicited an endorsement from Citizen Action Wisconsin, an anti-police group that wants to eliminate gang databases, treat criminals as juveniles until age 25, and says Wisconsin has a "structurally racist system of mass incarceration," the Washington Free Beacon reported on Tuesday. She later touted the group’s support on social media and her campaign website.

Protasiewicz has yet to respond to questions about her record in a public debate. She agreed to just one debate hosted by the State Bar on March 21 but turned down several others, including ones hosted by WISN-TV and the left-of-center American Constitution Society, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Protasiewicz did not respond to a request for comment.

The high stakes April 4 Supreme Court race is playing out to be the most expensive state judicial election in U.S. history, and the swing state’s decision could have national implications for the 2024 presidential election.

Protasiewicz’s opponents have nicknamed her "No Jail Janet," claiming she is a partisan judicial activist who coddled criminals during her time on the bench. Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business association, has been running an ad highlighting multiple convicted rapists and pedophiles who received light sentences from Protasiewicz.

In one 2019 case, Protasiewicz sentenced a child predator who assaulted an 11-year-old to probation, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In another case in 2018, she gave probation to a mother who allegedly starved her 16-year-old disabled son to death.

Protasiewicz’s campaign argued that the attacks on her record are "misleading" and ignore the "thousands of criminals" she held accountable during her decade as a judge.

"I was—and still am—ready to debate," wrote Kelly in a Mar. 3 post on Twitter. "Guess Politician Protasiewicz doesn't want people to know the cases for which she will put her thumb on the scales of justice."

During the Milwaukee Press Club forum, Kelly accused Protasiewicz of letting criminals off lightly and weighing in on political issues that are inappropriate for a judicial candidate, according to Fox6. "If you didn’t know better, you would think she was running for a spot in the legislature," said Kelly.