Right wing judge elected to District II Appeals Court, solidifying conservative majority

By: - April 6, 2022 6:00 am
Blind justice holding balancing scales statue

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Maria Lazar was elected to the District II Court of Appeals on Tuesday. The conservative Lazar’s win solidifies a 3-1 conservative majority on the court, which decides appeals for the 12-county district that covers southeastern Wisconsin from Kenosha County to Sheboygan County, excluding Milwaukee County. 

Lazar defeated incumbent Judge Lori Kornblum, who was appointed to the position by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers last year. 

District II, which is based in Waukesha and covers almost entirely Republican-leaning counties, voted for Lazar by a wide margin. With 92.4% of votes counted at 9:45 p.m., she had earned 54.8% of the vote and enjoyed a 9.6% margin, earning 26,000 more votes than Kornblum. 

The officially nonpartisan race grew heated, with the candidates swapping negative ads and gaining support from each of the state’s major political parties. 

Lazar ran a campaign that painted Kornblum as a liberal and connected her to Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm — who has become a favorite political target of conservatives since his office requested a low cash bail for a man accused of a domestic violence charge who, upon his release, drove his car through a Christmas parade in Waukesha, killing six people last November. Kornblum spent years working for the Milwaukee County DA prosecuting crimes against children. 

Lazar, who has been on the bench in Waukesha County Circuit Court since 2015, characterized herself as a “rule of law” judge and touted her endorsements from many of the district’s law enforcement officials as well as several current and former state Supreme Court Justices, including three of the four conservatives currently on the court and Michael Gableman, who has been conducting a partisan and conspiracy theory-laden review of the 2020 presidential election. 

“For years I’ve been a judge who doesn’t legislate from the bench but interprets the law as written,” Lazar said in an ad. 

Lazar’s campaign ads called Kornblum “a liberal, appointed by Gov. Tony Evers to legislate from the bench,” and pointed out that she worked “under John Chisholm.”

Ads from a political action committee supporting Lazar included video footage from the Waukesha parade rampage, a visual which the Kornblum campaign said was “re-traumatizing” and asked that it stop running. 

Ads from Kornblum attacked Lazar for granting a lenient sentence to a police officer who was found guilty of sexually assaulting a romantic partner. Lazar said the ads were “misleading” but did not dispute the central allegation of the ads. 

Lazar also had the support of several of the state’s most prominent conservative donors, as well as large swaths of the state’s right wing and members of the Republican party who have spread or indulged conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election. 

Raising more than $130,000, she received $5,000 maximum donations from Beloit-area billionaire Diane Hendricks and Illinois billionaires Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein. Lazar also received nearly $4,000 in donations from the Republican parties of the 1st Congressional District, Manitowoc, Racine, Walworth, Washington and Winnebago counties as well as $2,000 from the PAC supporting former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch’s gubernatorial campaign. 

The circuit court judge also received smaller donations from state Sens. Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan) and Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), Rep. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown), conservative Supreme Court Justice Patience Roggensack, former Supreme Court Justice Dan Prosser and Michael Grebe, a UW System regent. 

Lazar cruised to her easy win despite being out-fundraised by Kornblum. 

Her ascension to the four-judge panel comes one year after right wing Judge Shelley Grogan won a seat on the court. With Lazar’s victory, Judge Lisa Neubauer is the only liberal-aligned member of the court. 

Last year, Grogan ran a similar campaign as Lazar’s in which she painted her opponent, Evers-appointee Jeffrey Davis, as a liberal — even though Davis was a moderate who had endorsements from figures such as conservative Supreme Court Justice Patience Roggensack. 

Grogan defeated Davis with 55.7% percent of the vote. 

Also on the panel is Mark Gundrum, a former Republican member of the state Assembly. 

District II hears appeals of trial decisions in its 12 counties, which could include a lawsuit currently pending that would decide how Gableman can enforce subpoenas against the mayors of several largely Democratic-voting cities.


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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.