New liberal majority of Wisconsin Supreme Court immediately fires conservative state courts director with no explanation

 August 4, 2023

On Tuesday, following the swearing-in of a new member, four liberal justices gained majority control of the Wisconsin Supreme Court for the first time in roughly 15 years.

Just one day later, in what appears to be that new majority's first order of business, they unceremoniously fired the conservative-leaning director of the state's court system, Randy Koschnik, according to the Associated Press.

The firing of Koschnik, who had served in that director position since 2017 with no issues following an exemplary 18-year career as a judge, earned a sharp rebuke from the official head of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, conservative-leaning Chief Justice Annette Zeigler.

New liberal majority "completely usurped" normal processes

"The unauthorized action taken today by some of my colleagues firing Director of State Courts Randy Koschnick is flawed procedurally, legally, and on its merits," Chief Justice Zeigler said in a statement. "As Chief Justice, I contemplated actions I might take to attempt to stop this unauthorized action, but given my colleagues’ reckless conduct, other court employees would also become victims of this unauthorized action."

"We are a collegial court, not a court of four. I expect better of my colleagues. A vote of four may dictate decisions of our court, but those votes are taken during formally noticed court conferences scheduled by the Chief Justice; no such conference has occurred," she continued. "This action is procedurally flawed in at least that respect. It is also not how a collegial court decides matters and is dysfunctional at best."

Zeigler further decried how the "deliberative process" of normal court conferences had been "completely usurped by this overreach" as well as how her colleagues had apparently made a "pre-ordained determination" via "secret discussions" that the minority justices were not involved in.

She also explained at length how the firing of Koschnik was "legally flawed" and noted that the incoming conservative majority in 2008 had not done the same thing to the liberal-leaning state court director at that time. She also called the decision "unwise," in that Koschnik had served in a "non-partisan, non-political manner" and had accomplished great things during his tenure, such as focusing on mental health, resolving a shortage of court reporters, and keeping the system up and running during the COVID pandemic.

A "raw exercise of overreaching power"

"And what is the rush to fire Director Koschnick? What is the purpose of doing such an unauthorized action as the first order of business for the 2023-24 term?" Chief Justice Zeigler asked. "I have not been made aware of any urgent issues that would require the immediate removal of Director Koschnick."

"Whether there are requisite votes to do so is not a reason to eliminate input from all members of the court in conference, properly noticed by the Chief Justice," she continued. "Allowing all seven justices the opportunity to be heard and having the benefit of thoughtful discussion and debate before a formal vote is taken is key to a properly functioning court."

"The court’s action today violates the Wisconsin Constitution which endows the Chief Justice with administrative authority. The authority of the Chief Justice is being undermined and eroded unlike any time in this court’s history," Zeigler declared. "The court has had different shifts in make-up over the years, but this lack of respect for longstanding institutional process is reckless."

"To say that I am disappointed in my colleagues is an understatement. My colleagues’ unprecedented dangerous conduct is the raw exercise of overreaching power. It is shameful. I fear this is only the beginning," she concluded.

"There’s no decorum. There’s no grace. There’s no civility."

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the unceremonious firing of Koschnik came just one day after the openly liberal new Justice Janet Protasiewicz was sworn in after winning an election in April, and the termination of the director, which came without any explanation, has been widely viewed as being politically motivated due to Koschnik's conservative leanings and his prior unsuccessful challenge of a former liberal-leaning justice.

Koschnik told the outlet that he had been given little advanced notice that he would be let go and no real explanation, and called the move "irrational, political, sadly predictable." He also noted that it occurred while he was out of town for a conference and that his staffers were instructed "to box up my personal items in my office today, which is very demeaning to my staff."

"There’s no decorum. There’s no grace. There’s no civility," he said. The Journal noted that Koschnik further stated that he has not ruled out the possibility of filing a lawsuit in opposition to his sudden firing for apparently partisan reasons.

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