June 20, 2016
Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s office has narrowed the list of applicants from 11 to five for an upcoming Wisconsin Supreme Court vacancy. The five include a previously anonymous applicant who was one of the attorneys hired to help successfully defend controversial GOP-drawn legislative district maps in a 2012 federal court trial.
The attorney, Daniel Kelly, of Milwaukee, had requested confidentiality, which is legal, when he applied last month for the high court seat being vacated by retiring Justice David Prosser at the end of July. In addition to Kelly, the other four finalists for Prosser’s job are:
Mark Gundrum, a former GOP Assembly colleague of Walker who was elected a Waukesha County circuit judge in 2010 and then appointed by Walker to the state Court of Appeals in 2011;
Randy Koschnick, a Jefferson County circuit judge who ran unsuccessfully for a 10-year term on the high court in 2009 against then-Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson. Koschnick’s daughter, Katie, is currently Walker’s chief legal counsel;
Thomas Hruz, a former Milwaukee attorney, employee of the conservative think tank Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, and Prosser law clerk. Hruz was appointed to the District 3 Court of Appeals in Wausau in 2014 by Walker;
James Morrison, an attorney who moved from Michigan to Wisconsin shortly before Walker appointed him to a Marinette County circuit judgeship in March 2012. Morrison was elected to a six-year term in 2013.
Kelly waived his anonymity request, which was criticized by open records advocates, after the governor’ Judicial Selection Advisory Committee interviewed all 11 applicants on June 13 and picked him among the five to be given second interviews. After second interviews, a final list of candidates will be picked from among the five remaining applicants and sent to the governor. Walker’s appointment to the court does not have to run for election for his own 10-year term on the Supreme Court until 2020.
Kelly was among several lawyers hired in 2012 by legislative Republicans to defend their legislative district maps. The mapping process, known as redistricting, is done every 10 years using U.S. Census figures to equally reapportion the population in legislative and congressional districts. Democrats have argued the maps passed by the GOP-controlled legislature and signed by Walker were drawn in secrecy to help Republicans get elected to the legislature and Congress and that some of the districts were improperly drawn. A decision on the legality of the maps is pending from another federal court trial concluded last month.
Before opening his own practice, Kelly previously worked for the Robert and Patricia Kern Family Foundation. The Kerns are longtime contributors to Republican and conservative candidates and causes throughout the country. Kelly also worked for Reinhart, Boerner & Van Deuren, a Milwaukee law firm that frequently represents Republicans.
Kelly’s biography also said he is associated with the conservative Federalist Society and the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a Milwaukee-based law firm that initiates lawsuits or defends the conservative side on an array of public issues.