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Newly released emails show disputes continue behind the scenes on Wisconsin Supreme Court

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MADISON, Wisconsin — Even with a new chief justice, the disputes continue behind the scenes inside the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Backers of a constitutional amendment allowing the justices to decide who will be their leader argued it would lead to more harmony on the Supreme Court. But emails released Friday show the tenure of new Chief Justice Patience Roggensack is off to a rocky start.

Four conservative justices voted to make Roggensack chief justice last month, removing liberal Justice Shirley Abrahamson from the post she held for 15 years. Abrahamson has a pending federal lawsuit arguing that she can't be removed until her term ends in four years.

Justice Patrick Crooks, viewed as a swing vote on the seven-member court, did not vote for Roggensack as chief justice. And emails provided Friday to The Associated Press show Crooks objected to moves Roggensack made earlier this week.

Crooks sent Roggensack an email Sunday in response to a message she sent May 16 notifying all the justices of a closed conference the following day to vote on cases that had been argued in April.

She gave Crooks, Abrahamson and fellow liberal Justice Ann Walsh Bradley a deadline of 12:30 p.m. Monday to submit their votes if they did not plan to attend. If no vote was received, Roggensack said the opinions will show they withdrew from the case.

Crooks objected, saying that calling a closed conference was a violation of court rules because it was not on the calendar and all seven justices had not agreed to do it.

Crooks said if he didn't cast his vote by the deadline Roggensack set, "you have unilaterally decided, without any authority, to exclude me from participation in those cases."

"Such action by you is without precedent," Crooks wrote. "Obviously I object. If you take such action, I intend to notify the attorneys for the parties in each case of your unauthorized action, and that I did not withdraw from participation."

Roggensack followed up with another email urging all the justices to attend the closed conference, and extended the deadline by another day for any justice unable to attend.

Roggensack issued a statement Friday after the release of the emails saying all seven justices cast votes for the cases in question and they have all been assigned for writing.

"In order for Supreme Court justices to write and the court to mandate opinions on which oral argument has been held, justices needed to cast their votes and cases needed to be assigned for writing," Roggensack said in the statement.

The emails were provided by Abrahamson at AP's request.

The behind the scenes email spat came in the days leading up to a Monday swearing-in ceremony in the court for recent graduates from Marquette University Law School. It marked the first public appearance with Roggensack as chief justice. Crooks, Abrahamson and Bradley all were absent.

They have not given a reason for their absence and the emails provided by Abrahamson do not show why they were not there.

Voters approved the amendment giving justices the power to select who serves as chief justice on April 7. Supporters in the Legislature had argued such a move would empower the court to move beyond ideological and personal disputes in recent years.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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