Jill Karofsky will challenge conservative Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly in the April 7 general election. (Photos by Julian Emerson)
Jill Karofsky will challenge conservative Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly in the April 7 general election. (Photos by Julian Emerson)

Karofsky files complaint over plea deal in which she played no part

The campaign of Jill Karofsky filed a complaint with the state Elections Commission Tuesday, charging backers of her opponent, Dan Kelly, in the April 7 state Supreme Court election with continuing to run a previously discredited political attack ad against her.

The Karofsky campaign said the ad, being aired by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and the Republican State Leadership Committee, falsely claims Karofsky negotiated a plea deal and is “dangerously soft on crime” related to the case State of Wisconsin vs. Donald A. Worley. 

In reality, Karofsky’s campaign said, she made no appearances in the case until more than one year after the plea agreement was made and the defendant was sentenced. Last week PolitiFact Wisconsin investigated the ad and found it to be false, prompting a “Pants of Fire” designation because it wrongly portrayed Karofsky as having overseen a plea deal she didn’t negotiate. 

Worley, of Madison, was charged in February 1999 with felony child enticement and first-degree sexual assault of a child. A plea agreement reached in March 2000 reduced those offenses to misdemeanors, and Worley was sentenced to three years of probation. 

Court records list Karofsky as the prosecutor, but she was the last prosecutor in the case, and was not in that position when the plea deal was reached. 

On Friday, the Karofsky campaign sent letters to WMC and the Republican State Leadership Committee demanding documentation of their claim against Karofsky and seeking a halt to the ad. However, Karofsky’s campaign manager Tyler Hendricks said, both groups have continued to air it. 

“Dan Kelly’s allies have had days to correct this disgusting, slanderous and patently false attack on Judge Karofsky, but they’ve chosen to continue lying to the people of Wisconsin,” Hendricks said, adding the Ethics Commission should “take immediate action” to stop the ad. 

The Ethics Commission was not available for comment on the matter Wednesday.

The dispute is the most recent in a contentious campaign between Kelly, appointed in 2016 to the Supreme Court by former Gov Scott Walker, and Karofsky, a Dane County judge since 2017. As they fight for a 10-year Supreme Court appointment, Kelly has accused Karofsky of slandering him while Karofsky has called Kelly “someone who is for sale” who always rules in favor of conservative interests and has refused to recuse himself from cases in which he has a conflict of interest.

Kelly has touted his judicial philosophy and his commitment to interpreting laws exactly as they are written. Karofsky said her background as a judge, prosecutor and crime victim advocate and her ability to build consensus make her the right candidate for a Supreme Court spot.  

Campaign finance figures released Monday reveal both candidates receiving funding from political party backers — Republicans for Kelly, Democrats for Karofsky. Races for state Supreme Court are officially nonpartisan, but most candidates in recent years have received support from political parties. 

Those figures show Karofsky has slightly outraised Kelly in individual donations but has taken in significantly more than him from organizations. From January 2019 to March 23, Karofsky has raised about $2.4 million and spent more than $1.7 million.

Her latest campaign finance report shows the state Democratic Party was Karofsky’s largest supporter by far, making cash and in-kind contributions totaling $1.29 million. 

Figures show Kelly raised almost $1.6 million and spent nearly $1.2 million from July 2018 and March 23. The Republican Party of Wisconsin was his biggest donor, having given $65,379 in donations.