Wisconsin Justice Hagedorn gets trashed, praised by public

By: - December 8, 2020 3:21 pm
Pro-Trump rally with MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell on the steps of the Wisconsin State Capitol Dec. 7, 2020 (Photo by Luther Wu)

Pro-Trump rally with MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell on the steps of the Wisconsin State Capitol Dec. 7, 2020 (Photo by Luther Wu)

Justice Brian Hagedorn
Justice Brian Hagedorn

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Brian Hagedorn has received more than a dozen scathing office voicemail messages after siding with court liberals to reject President Donald Trump’s increasingly unhinged attempts to overturn the results of the November election.

“I think you should resign,” declared one message left on Hagedorn’s public phone line by a man who identified himself as Ron, last name phonetically Olincheck [caller number 17 on linked recording]. “You gave us a lot of lies. You said you were a Republican conservative. You’re not. You’re terrible. Hopefully someday, you’ll get paid back on this. Resign. You’re a piece of garbage.”

Other callers voiced similar assessments. “You are an absolute disgrace,” said one male caller who did not give his name [message 2]. “And we the people of Wisconsin are completely embarrassed to have you on the court. Not sure how you can look at yourself in the mirror, but you are a coward.” The last four words are spoken as: “You. Are. A. Coward.”

In response to my open records request, Hagedorn’s office on Tuesday released three letters and seventeen voicemail messages left on his office phone. All were received after Hagedorn sided with the court’s liberal minority on two cases late last week involving challenges brought by the President and his campaign’s attorneys.

Hagedorn conveyed through his law clerk, Teresa Manion, that he is unaware of any emails sent to him from members of the public. Manion noted that email addresses of Supreme Court justices are not readily available and that some messages sent to other addresses could have been “filtered” out.

Court Information Officer Tom Sheehan forwarded my request for records to Hagedorn’s office on Monday afternoon, just as Sheehan was dutifully sending out a new motion, along with voluminous exhibits and appendices, for Trump’s latest attempt to use the Wisconsin courts to subvert democracy. The President is now taking his falsehood-laden grievances to Milwaukee County circuit court, in hopes that the issue could somehow land again before the state Supreme Court.

Hagedorn’s office responded almost immediately to make the requested records available. There were no redactions.

The voice messages left on Hagedorn’s phone system were not released electronically—Manion said there were technical difficulties with doing that. Instead, I was allowed to come into the closed state Capitol building to hear the messages being played back, with the understanding that I could record them, which I did.

None of the critical callers made threats, and most were polite: “Thank you very much for taking my call,” concluded Cynthia Lima of Franklin [6] (she spelled her last name in the message). “Again: disenfranchised, disillusioned, and disappointed. Thank you.”

Several callers wanted Hagedorn to know that while they had supported him in his 2019 election to the state Supreme Court, they will be working for his defeat should he seek another ten-year term in 2029.

‘Allowing fraud’

“What a joke. He is pathetic. He will never, ever, ever see an additional ten years as a judge in the state,” said a female caller who did not leave her name [4]. “He will not ever be reelected. Bye.”

“You are allowing fraud to go on in our state,” declared Pamela Baker (presumed spelling) of Franklin, Wisconsin [7]. “I will actively campaign against you and your next election, hoping to make you a one term justice.”

“We all know the election was fraudulent. We know it,” one caller [9] who did not give her name declared. “We’ve seen it with our own eyes. You are asking us to ignore our own eyes and ignore our common sense.”

A caller who identified himself as Mark Wakefield (spelling presumed) [11], said he was calling for the third time to inquire “how I’m going to get the $500 back that Judge Hagedorn stole from me.” No earlier messages from Wakefield were released.


Manion would not comment on whether Justice Hagedorn had reviewed the messages or responded to any of them. Hagedorn was not available.

Of the seventeen voicemail messages, only three were positive.

One woman caller who did not give her name but identified herself as a Wisconsin resident calling from Dallas, Texas [3] called to thank Hagedorn for his vote. “The whole country has been watching all of these cases, and it’s been very scary to watch what the campaign lawyers have been trying to do in terms of interfering and overturning votes.” The caller said she is a conservative who usually votes Republican.

‘Middle of the road’ voter pleased

A resident of Ashland phonetically named Paul Barns called [1] to compliment Hagedorn “on the courage and leadership you showed in the vote that you made yesterday.” He described himself as a “middle-of-the-road guy” and a political independent, adding, “I’ve been watching the GOP operate here with disgust, frankly, because I do see it . . . as an attack on our Constitution and our democracy. So the fact that you stepped forward and made the leadership call that you did, it meant a lot to me . . . and I think you deserve kudos for that.”

And Marie Hoven (spelling presumed) from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin [14], called to “voice my concerns about the lawsuit that is currently going through the lower court from Donald Trump to try to invalidate voters votes that were legally cast in the state of Wisconsin, based on rules that actually the Republicans set forth a number of years ago.”

Two of the three letters received by Hagedorn’s office in response to these rulings were also positive.

Marta Weldon of Appleton wrote to commend Hagedorn for “following the law”: “I’m grateful that, despite harsh political backlash from Wisconsin conservatives, you are able to make decisions outside of the Republican agenda to dismantle Wisconsin’s certification of the election.”

George Wagner of Milwaukee, in a brief handwritten note, praised Hagedorn’s ruling: “I did not vote for you last year but have been increasingly impressed by several of your rulings that show you are not a tool of the Republican Party.”

The third letter was signed as coming from Jerry Doyle. “I still remember the times you came to Sheboygan County meetings as a campaigner for the Supreme Court vacancy,” Doyle wrote. “Our party members desperately wanted you elected, and we worked like dogs to support your candidacy.”

Alas, Doyle continues, “Once you were elected, like a good liberal, you gained the power you sought and started voting with the liberals. It was a shock to us and we feel like we have been stabbed in the back.”

Unlikely target for conservatives

Hagedorn is an unlikely target of conservative ire. He previously served as Governor Scott Walker’s chief legal counsel, where he helped draft legislation to largely eliminate the collective bargaining rights of public employees. He argued that a 2009 law that providing limited benefits to gay and lesbian couples, including the right to hospital visitation, was unconstitutional, only to have a state appeals court and the Wisconsin Supreme Court both unanimously uphold it.

Appointed by Walker to a state appeals court in 2015, Hagedorn won election to that court in 2017 and beat a better-financed liberal-backed rival for the state Supreme Court in 2019.

Prior to the race, it emerged that Hagedorn had proclaimed in college blog posts that “Christianity is the correct religion, and that insofar as others contradict it, they are wrong.” He warned that a landmark 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down laws against homosexual behavior opened the (barn) door to the legalization of sex with animals, writing: “The idea that homosexual behavior is different than bestiality as a constitutional matter is unjustifiable.”

Hagedorn to this day serves on the board of a Christian school that reserves the right to kick out gay students and even those who have the misfortune of having gay parents. He is on record with such musings as calling Planned Parenthood “a wicked organization” and branding the NAACP “a disgrace to America.”

But Hagedorn has in recent months sided with liberal-backed Justices Ann Walsh Bradley, Rebecca Dallet, and Jill Karofsky, and against the court’s other conservatives: Chief Justice Patience Roggensack and Justices Rebecca Bradley and Annette Ziegler.

In January, Hagedorn joined the liberals in declining to promptly take up a lawsuit seeking to purge more than 200,000 Wisconsin residents from state voter rolls. In mid-September, they refused to order the reprinting of ballots to include a disallowed Green Party candidate. The case, which The New York Times reported was funded by an “unnamed conservative benefactor,” sought to disadvantage Democrat Joe Biden by siphoning off votes to a left-leaning third party contender.

Abiding by judicial norms

The two cases directly involving Trump were both the subject of court rulings last week. On  December 3, Hagedorn cast the deciding vote to reject the Trump campaign’s efforts to disallow more than 200,000 legally cast votes in the Democratic strongholds of Milwaukee and Dane County.

“We do well as a judicial body to abide by time-tested judicial norms, even—and maybe especially—in high-profile cases,” he wrote in that ruling. “Following the law governing challenges to election results is no threat to the rule of law.”

The following day, December 4, Hagedorn again joined the court’s liberals in refusing to take up Trump’s lawsuit seeking to invalidate the state’s election results, effectively tossing out 3.3 million state votes which had been verified by recount and certified by state officials.

“Judicial acquiescence to such entreaties built on so flimsy a foundation would do indelible damage to every future election,” Hagedorn wrote for the majority. “Once the door is opened to judicial invalidation of presidential election results, it will be awfully hard to close that door again. This is a dangerous path we are being asked to tread. The loss of public trust in our constitutional order resulting from the exercise of this kind of judicial power would be incalculable.”

In these cases, the court did not rule on the merits of Trump’s pleadings, only on whether or not they should take them up. Hagedorn, writing for the majority, said he was stunned by the remedy being sought by the President—a complete overturn of the election result.

“At least no one can accuse the petitioners of timidity,” Hagedorn wrote. “The relief being sought by the petitioners is the most dramatic invocation of judicial power I have ever seen.”

At one point, Hagedorn seemed to be chiding his fellow court conservatives for their judicial activism in pursuit of a political result: “While the rough and tumble world of electoral politics may be the prism through which many view this litigation, it cannot be so for us. In these hallowed halls, the law must rule.”

Hagedorn will have a hard time convincing Linda Grace (spelling presumed) of West Bend, who left him a voicemail message that concluded: “We elected Donald Trump. He won in a landslide. And we need to get to the bottom of this fraud or we’ll never have fair elections again. This needs to be corrected. Thanks, bye.”

Correction: This article, as originally published, incorrectly stated that Justice Hagedorn sided with fellow conservatives in striking down Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers’s “Safer at Home” order; Hagedorn actually joined the court’s liberal justices Rebecca Dallet and Ann Walsh Bradley in voting unsuccessfully to affirm the order. Former Justice Dan Kelley — a conservative who was defeated in April by liberal Justice Jill Karofsky — joined conservative Justices Pat Roggensack, Rebecca Bradley and Annette Ziegler in the majority.

This story was originally published by The Progressive.

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Bill Lueders
Bill Lueders

Bill Lueders, former editor of The Progressive magazine and current editor-at-large, is a Wisconsin writer who lives in Madison. He also serves as the elected president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, a statewide group that works to protect public access to government meetings and records.