Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz, the liberal candidate for Wisconsin Supreme Court, went on the defense to explain her sentencing record, with her conservative opponent, Daniel Kelly, focusing on light sentences delivered to some rapists and pedophiles during her time on the bench.
The Supreme Court race is shaping up to be the most contentious race of 2023, as Protasiewicz’s win could upset the court’s 4-3 conservative majority in the aftermath of longtime Judge Patience Roggensack’s retirement after 20 years. Democrats view this race as an opportunity to reshape Wisconsin’s judicial system and state law, as several high-profile cases, such as abortion access, are making their way through the Supreme Court.
Like many 2023 races, crime has been a major focus of the Supreme Court race and a hot-button topic that Kelly and his allies are using to slam Protasiewicz for her sentencing history. During a debate on Tuesday, Kelly mentioned a case that was featured in an ad released on Saturday by the Justice Kelly Campaign.
The situation involved Protasiewicz originally sentencing Quantrell Bounds to five years and nine months for first-degree child sexual assault after he assaulted and raped a 13-year-old girl and posted the video on Facebook.
“Despite facing 60 years in prison, Judge Janet refused to give Bounds any prison time at all,” the ad says. “No prison for child rapists. That’s Janet Protasiewicz on crime.”
However, Protasiewicz spoke about her crime record during Tuesday’s debate, calling criticism of her sentencing “unfair.”
“I have sentenced thousands of people and it’s interesting that a handful of cases have been cherry-picked and selected and twisted,” Protasiewicz said.
Kelly, who has been blasted by opponents for “too extreme policies,” argued that the cases are “representative” of Protasiewicz’s “weak-on-crime record.”
He pointed to another case in which Protasiewicz released a rapist of a 15-year-old girl citing COVID-19 concerns, per court records obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. Protasiewicz called his reasoning an “outright lie,” despite court records indicating that she said, “But for COVID, I would be giving you some House of Correction time. These are strange times, Mr. Wright. I’m not going to do that,” in Kenneth Wright’s sentencing in 2020.
“It’s the reasoning that goes behind those sentences that’s problematic,” Kelly said.
Tuesday’s debate comes one day after Everytown for Gun Safety, the country’s largest gun control nonprofit organization, released a $500,000 ad campaign called “Know” in Madison and Milwaukee media markets attacking Kelly for his stances on abortion and gun control.
The ad claims Kelly “opposed background checks on all gun sales,” pointing to a 2017 decision that made it easier for “dangerous people” to carry guns in public. The campaign also claims Kelly “worked for a radical anti-abortion group,” featuring clips from protests that occurred after the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2022.
“Here’s what you don’t know,” the ad narrator says. “Banning abortion. Putting our communities at risk. Dan Kelly is too extreme for our Supreme Court.”
The race will culminate in the election held on April 4, which is shaping up to be the most expensive state Supreme Court campaign in history. Close to $10 million was spent during the primary contest before Feb. 21, and total spending on the campaign has reached $10.4 million, a new state record. Protasiewicz and Kelly reported nearly identical cash-on-hand balances as of Feb. 6, with both raising more money than their competitors.