Wisconsin Chief Justice visits campus

Maggie Waz

Saturday, Feb. 7, one of the warmest days of this term, a small group gathered in the coffeehouse to meet Shirley Abrahamson, Wisconsin’s current chief justice. The event, hosted by Lawrence University Community Council, was very informal, complete with a selection of beverages, fruit and brownies. Abrahamson greeted each attendee individually upon her entrance.
Abrahamson received an honorary doctor of law degree from Lawrence University in 1998. At the gathering, she reminisced about the commencement ceremony at which she was honored, describing it as beautiful and joking about the tedious nature of such events.
In addition to this degree, she has received honorary ones from 13 other institutions. She has quite a bit of experience, having held the post of justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court since 1976 and chief justice since 1996. The post of chief justice is determined by seniority, meaning that one cannot actually run for the office. Her term expires at the end of July. To continue in the chief justice role, she will have to win re-election this April.
Abrahamson explained the function of a judge, some of her more impressive accomplishments and current changes in Wisconsin’s judiciary system. When asked by a fellow judge about new initiatives in the court system, Abrahamson outlined quite a few of the more active programs in which judges around the state are currently involved.
One initiative includes closely following people who have been released from prison or have previously appeared in court in order to decrease the amount of recidivism, or relapse into crime.
Most of the people in this program have committed crimes that involve drugs, alcohol or domestic abuse. When that behavior does not recur, those people being monitored receive small but significant rewards. This saves taxpayer money because courts do not try what are practically the same cases over and over again.
These types of programs, among others such as aid for war veterans, are ones implemented in part by Abrahamson. She also discussed the low turnout for Wisconsin’s mid-April elections, in which only 20 percent of all voters participate.
During this campaign, she hopes to attract more voters and remind people how important it is to vote in these spring elections. Her plan includes a new kind of campaign that relies heavily on smaller operations in many counties around the state.
Abrahamson’s campaign is running smoothly so far. She has been gathering endorsements from law enforcement officials, district attorneys, and former governors.
Her opponent is Randy Koschnick, a Jefferson County judge. Near the end of the gathering, a sheet was passed around for attendees to sign up as volunteers for the Appleton branch of the campaign. Like every campaign, this one is hoping to gather volunteers to spread the word and raise money. More information can be found at http://www.abrahamson2009.com/