The Wisconsin judicial oversight panel threw out a complaint against state Supreme Court Justice Jill Karofsky for the judge’s sarcastic comments to one of former President Donald Trump’s lawyers — but expressed “concern” about the judge’s actions.
In 2021, Karofsky questioned Trump lawyer Jim Troupis during a lawsuit to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Trump had been seeking to toss out 171,000 absentee ballots cast in Dane and Milwaukee counties, but lost in a 4-3 vote by Wisconsin’s highest court.
During colloquy at the Dec. 12, 2020 oral arguments, Karofsky said to Troupis:
And for you to come forward today and start just using, throwing out allegations of fraud with zero evidence whatsoever. What — What is America? It is not self-government. I’m sorry, it is self-governance. It is not governance from a king. And what you want, is you want us to overturn this election so that your king can stay in power. And that is so un-American.
Ultimately, the court rejected Trump’s lawsuit just days later.
Karofsky’s comments became the subject of a disciplinary complaint filed against her by Fletcher Thompson, a retired Maryland attorney who had no role in the case, but said he watched the oral arguments online.
The Wisconsin Judicial Commission dismissed Thompson’s complaint against Karofsky in November, but added an “expression of concern” over her comments to Troupis. Both the complaint and the commission’s response were confidential, but Karofsky, through an attorney, released documents Sunday to the Associated Press that detailed the panel’s findings.
Karofsky, who was elected just months before the proceedings in Trump’s case, said she recalls atmosphere of “intimidation” that pervaded the oral arguments on Dec. 12, 2020.
“During the argument, as I looked out my window, there were armed protesters walking right outside of my window and walking around the Capitol during the oral arguments,” Karofsky recounted on Law&Crime’s podcast “Objections: with Adam Klasfeld,” during an exclusive interview nearly a year after the proceedings.
Karofksy said she relied on a police escort to reach her car safely after the proceedings.
Karofsky also told the AP that while judges are required to act with impartiality toward litigants, judge need not “turn a blind-eye to dangerous, bad-faith conduct by a lawyer or litigant.”
“It is beyond reason to read the Code to require judges to be mouse-like quiet when parties are arguing in favor of a slow-motion coup,” Karofsky told press in an email.
Karofsky’s attorney, Stacie Rosenzweig, had concerns of her own with the commission. In a Feb. 7 letter also released to the AP, Rosenzweig warned the committee against allowing partisan actors “hijack the (judicial) disciplinary system, in an attempt to silence a justice who rightfully tried to stop frivolous and dangerous arguments that undermined our democracy.”
Rosenzweig told the commission that it “risks setting a dangerous precedent” and warned against future efforts to politicize disciplinary proceedings.
“By allowing the Commission to be weaponized in this fashion, the Commission became a pawn of those determined to undermine an independent judiciary,” she wrote.
The outcome is not an official reprimand or disciplinary finding.
Law&Crime reached out to Karofsky’s attorney Monday, but did not immediately receive a response.
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