Reality Check

Reality Check: Third Party Ad In Supreme Court Race

Election Is April 1

MADISON, Wis. - This year's Wisconsin Supreme Court race is heating up with the spring election approaching on April 1.

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Third party groups are jumping in to support the candidates -- incumbent Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler and Burnett County Circuit Court Judge Michael Gableman.

The first television ad airing the Madison area regarding the race is one sponsored not by Gableman but by a conservative group called Club for Growth Wisconsin. The group, based in Sun Prairie, is the state branch of the national Club for Growth. It has 40,000 members who believe in "economic freedom," WISC-TV reported.

"Criminals threaten our communities. Oddly enough, so do some judges who return them to the street," the ad says. "But not Judge Michael Gableman. He's a former prosecutor who has gone toe to toe with the arsonists, sexual predators, domestic abusers and white-collar criminals who belong in jail."

A WISC-TV analysis found that this claim needs clarification.

A closer look at Gableman's record shows limited experience in these types of cases. Gableman was the district attorney in Ashland County from 1999 to 2002. He only prosecuted one arson case, which was ordered an acquittal.

In 19 felony child abuse cases, three were dismissed, 13 pleaded out to misdemeanor crimes, two were found not guilty at trial and only one was sentenced to prison time.

In felony sexual assault of children cases, Gableman got 11 convictions out of 31 cases, and 15 cases were pleaded to misdemeanors.

The term "white-collar crime" could mean everything from corporate embezzlement to check fraud. Gableman did deal with theft from businesses, forgery and worthless check cases in Ashland County, but whether any of those were so-called "white-collar criminals" is up for debate.

"That's why 70 percent of Wisconsin's sheriffs and countless police chiefs consider Gableman their ally in the war on crime," the ad said.

WISC-TV found this claim to be true. Of the state's 72 county sheriffs, 51 have endorsed Gableman. As for "countless" police chiefs, 21 have endorsed Gableman.

WISC-TV found that the tone of the ad and the images of crime and criminal cases used in it are misleading.

The focus on criminal cases in the ad mischaracterizes the job of a Supreme Court justice. The Supreme Court decides constitutional questions, and it doesn't hand out sentences like a Circuit Court.

In fact, usually less than a third of the cases accepted for review are even criminal, WISC-TV reported.

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