Decisions, Decisions

Liberal judge says Milwaukee city government coordinating with partisan activists is OK because “That’s Democracy.”


Over the past week, judges dismissed two suits related to the 2022 election in Wisconsin, while Supreme Court justices dismissed the constitution.

This is installment 358 of ‘Elections Have Consequences.’


Cavalier Johnson and Zuckerbucks 2.0

One case related to Milwaukee Votes 2022, a get-out-the-vote project run by the city in partnership with hyper-partisan partners.

Just like the Zuckerbucks debacle in 2020, outside, partisan groups pumped huge sums of money into Milwaukee to target voters in specific demographic areas for turnout.

There’s no problem with government entities informing the entire electorate about voting dates and requirements and encouraging all eligible voters to vote.

Government targeting only specific voters to vote is a problem.  Targeting shifts margins and outcomes. That’s why partisans target – to gain advantage for their candidates. Governments swaying elections toward one party over another is obviously, painfully, dangerously undemocratic.

But that’s what Zuckerbucks – and Milwaukee Votes – were about.  Hyper-partisan liberals giving money to local government officials in areas home to predominantly Democrat voters, buying access to elections operations, and targeting specific areas and voters to sway turnout and outcomes.

When Mayor Cavalier Johnson announced the city’s partnership with a private money group doing door-to-door canvassing – in reference to Milwaukee Votes 2022 – he stepped in it.  It may be a measure of how deeply intrenched the bias is in city hall that the mayor said in his out loud voice – bragging, really – at a press conference. His staff tried desperately to walk back his comments, while also confirming that GPS Impact – a group that helps Democratic and progressive candidates – was one of the city’s partners.

Communications recovered as part of an open records request showed that GPS Impact staff, former Democratic party officials, and Johnson’s political consultant were not just involved in the targeted voter turnout scheme, but they were involved in trying to clean up the mayor’s accidental revelation.

And, as Dan O’Donnell wrote for MacIver, Milwaukee Votes was funded by a $1 million grant from the Center for Secure and Modern Elections, a sister group to Zuckerbuck’s puppeteers CTCL and funded by the Sixteen Thirty Fund, which Politico describes as a “dark money behemouth.”

So, not non-partisan.

The state republican party argued in their suit that by partnering with a Democratic organization expressly to aid turnout amounted to prohibited partisan political activity by city officials. Back in October, a Milwaukee judge denied their request to immediately shut down Milwaukee Votes; this week another judge dismissed the case altogether.

Judge Hannah Dugan made the final ruling.

Milwaukee-area readers may remember when in July 2015 Dugan filed to run for circuit court judge in branch 44 expecting the incumbent to retire, then dropped out after getting an unexpected opponent, then switched to run for branch 31 in October, then dropped out citing ‘partisanship’ in December, then rejoined the race in January 2016, and then won election in April.  She was reelected in 2022.

Like Protasiewicz in her supreme court race, Dugan, a former attorney for Legal Action and the Legal Aid Society, ran on her “values.”



So, it’s not surprising Dugan is disinterested in city employees complying with statutes or workplace rules or working with partisans to sway the election, since what they were doing matched her liberal “values.”

In her ruling, Dugan said the fact that the city was working with outside groups led by the former Chairman of the Milwaukee County Democratic Party, multiple Democrat political consultants, the former vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee, a staffer for the Democratic Governors Association, and the former communications director for Governor Evers was “not sufficient” evidence to conclude that the activity “supported a particular party.”

Dugan reasons that “even if” the activities are partisan, it is “wholly speculative” that get-out-the-vote (GOTV) activities (the same kind both campaigns and dark money groups across the nation spend billions on each election cycle) “will have change (sic) the electoral outcome.”  One must wonder whether Dugan herself sent the mail piece shown above featuring prominent democrats to all potential voters or whether she “speculated” on changing the electoral outcome by targeting likely democratic ones.

With two short, chilling sentences in her decision, Dugan dismisses concerns about governments working with partisans to target only certain voters who are expected to vote for certain partisans: “That is not a harm. That is Democracy.”

A lay person might read that and conclude that Dugan has made a poor decision in this case.  As it turns out, the Court of Appeals and the Wisconsin Supreme Court have come to the same conclusion about past decisions from Dugan. Over and over and over again.

  • One of Dugan’s early decisions in 2016 – which would have let a 4-time drunk driver off the hook for one of two DUI’s committed within a month – was overturned by the Court of Appeals.
  • In 2017, Dugan dismissed a drug case and ordered the state to disclose the identity of a confidential informant that was reversed by the Court of Appeals which said in part:

“We conclude that on its face, the trial court’s decision demonstrates no consideration of any of the factors upon which the decision should be properly based. Therefore, it constitutes an erroneous exercise of discretion as a matter of law.” 

  • In another 2017 case the Court of Appeals reversed Dugan on decisions barring all expert testimony from the plaintiffs and dismissing the case saying, here again, she had committed an erroneous exercise of discretion.
  • A 2018 case where Dugan dismissed an appeal based on an imaginary statutory requirement was reversed by the appeals court.
  • The state Supreme Court in 2019 unanimously overturned a ruling by Dugan regarding constitutional rights and police procedure.
  • Another Dugan decision was overturned last fall by the Court of Appeals, this one a reversal of her decision siding with the city in a case where a business was targeted for closure by an alderman, denied due process, and improperly shut down by the city.

With a record of such dismal decisions, it looks like Dugan is in training to be a liberal state supreme court justice candidate in the future.


Military Absentee Fraud Case

Earlier this week, a Waukesha County judge dismissed a lawsuit filed after it was discovered the deputy director of the Milwaukee Election Commission had fraudulently requested military absentee ballots be sent to a Republican lawmaker’s home. The suit, filed by Representative Janel Brandtjen, sought to have military ballots sequestered in November pending the Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC) providing updated lists of military voters, which are required by law to be kept.

Judge Michael Maxwell said in dismissing the suit that it should have been filed against the responsible election official – the local clerk – not WEC, which provides guidance to those local officials. Maxwell agreed with the plaintiffs’ concerns about the lack of WEC guidance but said the court does not have the authority to require more. That’s in the hands of the legislature.

It goes without saying it is not the only problem facing election integrity, but statutes do matter.


Nature Abhors a Vacuum

Some of the trouble with election law cases in recent years has come from a lack of clarity and specificity in statute, something that can’t be rectified by a legislature that is foiled at every turn by gubernatorial vetoes. The November 2022 election sealed that gridlock for the next 4 years, and the April 2023 election empowered the judicial activists who have taken over the state Supreme Court.

Many – on both sides – expect judges to rule based on their political affiliation, not the law. But two Marquette polls, in September 2022 and November 2022 showed a grimly strong majority of the public (61%) expects the Supreme Court to take public opinion into account when making decisions. That thinking, and judges who have little problem ignoring ethical standards that should bind them to ruling on law and not making it, led us to the inauguration last week of a new Supreme Court Justice who promised to rule based on her values.

She barely had time to adjust her chair before we started hearing news of the new liberal majority on the court ignoring the constitution and limiting the administrative authority of the chief justice, as well as firing one director of courts and replacing him with a judge who cannot legally hold the position.

There is no doubt that the state will see, and suffer from, wanton abandonment of judicial ethics by our high court operating as judge, jury and executioners – taking on the role of all three branches rather than the one to which the constitution constrains them.