Freeing Barabas is Not the Answer

A few days ago, a tipster alerted SF that the Madison Professional Police Officers Association—the union representing rank-and-file Madison police officers, sergeants and detectives—had endorsed the candidacy of Joanne Kloppenburg for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. 

“Why,” the tipster asked, “would a police union put dollars over sense and endorse a candidate likely to give the benefit of the doubt to criminal defendants?”

This reader’s concerns are similar to those echoed by retired Milwaukee Police Officer Rick Sandoval in a television ad supporting the 12-year incumbent, Supreme Court Justice David Prosser.

Researching the matter, SF located a news release, posted at, pertaining to the Madison Professional Police Officers Association’s endorsement of Kloppenburg. 

“We value the importance of a non-partisan judge, who will offer an independent opinion when evaluating cases,” said Brian Austin, MPPOA board member, in the news release. 

I am more than a little disappointed that Mr. Austin—a former Milwaukee County assistant district attorney—signed-off on the endorsement.  One would think that after charging cases in a county that nearly half the state’s prison population calls home, Austin would have some empathy for his police officer colleagues in Milwaukee, where a state Supreme Court’s willingness to give criminal defendants the benefit of the doubt will, sooner or later, wreak havoc on the city streets.   

To clarify matters, SF reached out to Dan Frei, the President of the Madison Professional Police Officers Association, who a good source described as a “straight-shooter” and a “cop’s cop.”

“I’m not sure anyone has made a convincing case that Kloppenburg will be anti police or pro defendants,” Frei wrote in an e-mail. “Just because she once worked under [liberal State Supreme Court Justice Shirley] Abrahamson doesn’t mean that she will be in lockstep with her.”

The available data, however, leads SF to believe that, if elected, Joanne Kloppenburg may actually become the most liberal justice on the court.

Consider Kloppenburg’s remarks made during a debate with Prosser at Marquette University Law School. 

“I never said I was tough on crime,” Kloppenburg told the audience.  “Being tough on crime was not my message.”

Instead, it appears Kloppenburg’s message is that of an eco-warrior crusader. As an attorney with the Wisconsin Department of Justice, she hassled farmers for run-off into streams and challenged the property rights of landowners receiving local zoning variances.

One example is that of a Kaukauna couple, William and Lynn Gerrits, who did not wish to spend $50,000 to relocate their home an additional 18 feet from a creek.  The Gerrits’ received a variance from a zoning law requiring buildings to be 75 feet from the water.  The county board granted the couple a variance because it determined that a local government entity failed to inform the landowners that the house was too close to the creek during the building permit process.  Acting on behalf of the DNR, Joanne Kloppenburg argued that the couple did not deserve a variance, even though government regulators were at fault. 

Even more troubling is the Kloppenburg endorsement of Wisconsin Green Party candidate Ben Manski during last fall’s race against a Madison area Democrat, Brett Hulsey.  Manski is the executive director of the Liberty Tree Foundation, a left wing organization that supports Wisconsin Assembly Bill 203—restricting the ability of the President of the United States to deploy members of the Wisconsin National Guard overseas in times of crisis. 

If Kloppenburg’s support for the Green Party candidate is any indication of where Wisconsin is headed if she gets elected to the state’s highest court, hang on to your wallets. The Wisconsin Green Party platform calls for new “gas guzzler” car taxes, expensive and heavily subsidized light-rail projects, and Wisconsin’s unilateral implementation of the Kyoto accords on global warming, which would—using conservative numbers—easily double the average family’s electric bill and significantly damage Wisconsin’s electricity-driven manufacturing base.

However, at the end of the day, many of SF’s readers primary concern is the safety of law enforcement personnel, which is why some find the Madison police union’s endorsement of Kloppenburg troubling. 

“The vast majority of our union,” writes Frei, “does have an issue with what he [Governor Walker] has been doing and we would naturally make endorsements with that in mind.”

But is putting “dollars over sense” really a reason to give a candidate clearly out of touch with mainstream Wisconsin a 10-year term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court? 

During this season of Lenten reflection, the Madison police union’s call to end the career of David Prosser—even though that union has not made an issue of a single Prosser decision from the bench—is eerily reminiscent of the events of Holy week.   

From his chair in a courtyard, Pontius Pilate brought a beaten Jesus in front of the crowd.  In an attempt to dissuade the followers of the high priest Kaphus, Pilate gave the mob a choice, which man should go free: Barabas, a man in prison for a riotous murder, or Jesus?  The mob sided with their leader and freed the murderer while demanding that Pilate crucify an innocent man.   

The freeing of Barabas was a decision made out of spite by a mob looking for political vengeance.  

On the dangerous streets where those wearing blue and brown uniforms labor, organizations representing law enforcement officers should not cut-off their noses to spite their faces. The perpetrator discussed in the Rick Sandoval ad for Justice Prosser came just one Wisconsin Supreme Court vote away from escaping justice for the shooting of Police Officer Mike Lutz.  

And, regardless of what her supporters claim, it is not rocket science to deduce which side Joanne Kloppenburg would have ruled with. After all, being tough on crime, as she admitted, isn’t her “message.”


Steve Spingola is an author and retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective.

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI 2011

19 Responses

  1. John Frede

    I got a “CI” at the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, which represents a huge portion of rank and file around the State. The Executive Director, a lefty by the name of James Palmer (who is a lawyer, never a copper), also plans on giving that union’s endorsement to Kloppenburg. Palmer says it’s because Justice Prosser allegedly said that he’s “on Walker’s side.” Sound familiar?

    Seeing as how Madison is notoriously liberal, the MPPOA’s decision is as predictable as it is unfortunate.

    It’s pretty sad when a Police union will not endorse the values of the officers it is supposed to represent. But, where are the kickbacks in that?

    April 2, 2011 at 3:52 pm

  2. Glenn Frankovis

    REAL cops will have their opportunity to express their opinion on April 5th. They and the rest of the voters in Wisconsin will do themselves, their families and the good people of Wisconsin a great service if they vote PROSSER.

    April 2, 2011 at 4:10 pm

  3. Martin

    Looks like business as usual again I’m afraid. Nothing matters other than the “bennies” to some people. I can NEVER figure how the promise of additional benefits outweighs electing a Politician that can potentially(and frequently does) make your “real” work conditions much more harder than they have to be.

    April 2, 2011 at 6:09 pm

  4. John Belsha

    Thank you Steve. I was hoping you would breach this subject this month.
    The bottom line is that Kloppenburg is not qualified to be a member of the high court. Her running for a position on the state Supreme Court with no judicial experience is ridiculous. It can only be described as extreme arrogance on her part that she feels she should start at the top, rather than working her way up. We have a President that thought he needed no experience to run this country, and we see how well that is working for us. I guess the Madison Police Union would also feel that a security guard could perform their job as well as a professionally trained police officer. There is no substitute for experience. VOTE PROSSER ON APRIL 5TH.

    April 2, 2011 at 6:28 pm

  5. Steve Spingola

    John, while I agree that Kloppenburg is certainly not nearly as qualified as Prosser, in all fairness, Prosser never served as a judge before being elected to the state supreme court. He was, however, the DA for a county in the Fox River Valley area and a long time member of the state legislature.

    April 2, 2011 at 7:11 pm

  6. Carrie

    I was not sure where my vote here was going to fall, and was being swayed by Prosser’s apparent lockstep with Herr Walker. But this has made me look at what is the most important thing to vote on–the safety of our cities and our police officers. Thanks for exposing this!

    April 2, 2011 at 11:26 pm

  7. Glen

    The anti-Kloppenburg ad is a completely deceptive, out-of-context, typical WMC assassin piece.
    Talk about thuggery!

    April 3, 2011 at 2:47 am

  8. Mad in Madtown

    Hey, libs, face it, Kloppenburg is weak on crime like most Madison libs are. You live in the land where people work for the state, collect a check from the state or sell to the state. The rest of us work and pay taxes to the state. I suport our cops and firefighters. The governor gave them a special exemption. Now you want to elect a lawyer to the supreme court who spent the last twenty years measuring piers for a living.

    April 3, 2011 at 3:33 am

  9. Eric Donaldson

    While out and about today, I drove by three pro-Kloppenburg yard signs. All of them had the phrase “Fight Back! Vote JoAnne Kloppenburg for State Supreme Court” which makes a clear reference to the budget repair bill and the foregone conclusion she will rule without respect to the law to strike it down. Nevermind the fact that not a single State Constitutional question on the bill has been raised. It makes me sick.
    With the fleeing Senators, the sick-outs, fake doctor notes, extortion of private businesses, death threats, intimidation and vandalism, we now have the potential for voter nullification via judicial activism if Kloppenburg is elected. How many more of our institutions and laws can withstand this level of debasement before the rule of law loses its legitimacy?

    April 3, 2011 at 4:44 am

  10. John Belsha

    Excellent comment by Eric Donaldson. Electing Kloppenburg to the state Supreme Court will be an attempt to nullify the November 2010 elections. With this far-left liberal on the court, the left will attempt to litigate any and all legislation they oppose. Kloppenburg wants to rule the legislature from the judicial branch. We have seen her clone in the actions of ‘Judge’ Sumi. The left has done irreparable harm to our state government and their obstuction of democracy must cease! I don’t know about the rest of you, but my vote is sacred to me and the possibility of the opposition cancelling my vote is nothing short of criminal.

    April 3, 2011 at 9:07 pm

  11. Brian Austin

    Dear Mr. Spingola,

    I remember you well from my time as an Assistant District Attorney. I don’t know if you remember, but you and I worked together on at least one jury trial, and I found you to be an excellent detective. Needless to say, I was very disappointed to read your blog entry disparaging me, Dan Frei, and the rest of our union, particularly since you didn’t attempt to contact me prior to making your assertions to get my side of this story. I would like to take this opportunity to respond to what you wrote to clarify some of the issues raised.

    Frankly, I find a lot of your criticism leveled at the MPPOA rather hypocritical. Let me address your primary claim, which is that we are putting money ahead of the safety of officers on the street in reference to our endorsement of Joanne Kloppenburg for Supreme Court Justice.

    First, it is no secret that your union’s endorsement of Walker resulted directly from a political fight you were having with Walker’s opponent, primarily over money as well as the residency issue which is important to your membership. You clearly have the right to endorse the candidate whom you believe will further your interests, but please don’t pretend that this endorsement was anything else but self-interest. The proposed exemption for police and fire would certainly support the theory of political payback, an exemption which was also a clear attempt to divide working people in this state.

    Second, it is shocking to me that you would claim somehow our endorsement of Joanne Kloppenburg would compromise officer safety. This claim is so hypocritical it borders on absurd. You have endorsed a Governor who is gutting just about every institution we hold dear in our great state. Public safety will be no exception, particularly since police and fire services represent the bulk of every municipal budget. The unprecedented, nearly 100 million dollar cut to shared revenue for municipalities will not only affect the wages and benefits of police officers, but will stretch all of our ability to safely protect our communities to its breaking point. There is no way these cuts will not affect things like staffing levels, equipment, proactive initiatives, and other important aspects of policing. Furthermore, what do you think will be the impact of a complete gutting of the educational system, to the tune of 830 million dollars, will be on the crime rate in this state? The effect of the death of a viable public education system will be felt by police officers all over Wisconsin.

    And why is Governor Walker doing this all of this? It certainly has little to do with his assertion that “we are broke.” That myth was debunked weeks ago. We are not broke, at least we weren’t until the Governor, in his first weeks in office, gave back about $140,000,000 of a projected surplus to special corporate interests. Every shred of evidence points to 1) a naked and unapologetic money transfer to the wealthiest interests in and out of our state at the expense of working people, and 2) the fact that Walker is a pawn in a coordinated national plan to destroy unions and workers’ rights, including police officers. It is offensive to me that these priorities trump public safety, education, and other long standing Wisconsin traditions.

    The Supreme Court justice you support is one of the most partisan, politically motivated candidates the court has seen in recent years. His own statements indicate that he will be in lock-step with Walker, for whom Prosser acted as mentor in the legislature. The Governor and his administration have demonstrated nothing but contempt for the rule of law and for the separation of powers that makes our government work, and frankly we don’t need a Supreme Court justice that supports these actions for political, not legal, reasons. Justice Prosser has proven himself to be questionable judicial temperament at best, and also acknowledged, as a legislator, engaging in the use of taxpayer-funded staffers for campaign purposes. We feel Ms. Kloppenburg possesses the temperament, intelligence, and ethical makeup worthy of Supreme Court Justice. Your assertion that she will be soft on crime and, by implication, will not follow established criminal law, is based on speculation, not fact. I believe her long record with the Wisconsin Department of Justice will make her a very competent justice.

    Finally, it clearly suits your purposes to paint the fine officers of the MPPOA as somehow less effective or less dedicated than your officers, and to portray us as “crazy liberals.” While that kind of sentiment may help your online popularity, it truly pains me to see that cops would turn on other cops in this manner. You have not heard one word out of my union vilifying you or your union for your endorsement choices, no matter how destructive those choices have proven themselves to be. I have been a police officer for 14 years, and have just started my twelfth year with the MPD Special Weapons and Tactics Team. I have taught other police officers across the state in police officer survival, warrant service, tactics, legal instruction, and other areas. The membership of MPPOA are committed, brave, and capable men and women, and measure up to any agency in this nation. To imply otherwise is just plain wrong.

    I appreciate the ability to respond to your article, and am saddened that this debate has caused officer to turn on officer. I pray that this state returns to the sanity and civil discourse that predated this administration.

    Yours truly,

    Brian Austin

    April 4, 2011 at 2:00 am

  12. Steve Spingola


    I am not a member of the Milwaukee Police Association and have not been a member for some time. I retired from the Milwaukee PD several years ago. Prior to my retirement, I was a lieutenant of detectives, and, as such, was not a member of the MPA. Furthermore, I’ve never disparaged anyone. I have simply laid out the facts and stated my opinion. I even communicated with your union’s president prior to this posting.

    Take a drive outside of Dane County, breathe the same air other current and retired officers from other parts of the state breathe, and 75 percent are well aware that Joanne Kloppenburg is a dyed-in-the-wool Madison Green Party supporter. How supportive of the police has Progressive Dane been throughout the years? The Green Party candidate Ms. Kloppenburg endorsed was once a field organizer for Progressive Dane. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it doesn’t take a stellar detective to ascertain what out-of-the-mainstream political faction one is dealing with.

    Moreover, it is really bad form to quote me as describing the MPPOA as “crazy liberals.” I have never said that or written that. I believe your union’s position to endorse Kloppenburg is misguided and was made out of spite, as the MPPOA as failed to cite even ONE decision where they believe Justice Prosser errored, although the candidate you have endorsed, Ms. Kloppenburg, stated pulicly, at a debate, that she is not tough on crime.

    Furthermore, we can have discussions about public safety all day long.; however, I believe having drug dealers and other felons serve their full sentences handed down by judges is good public policy. YOUR state union executive director, Jim Palmer, provided Gov. Doyle political cover by standing at Doyle’s side while backing the early release of felons from Wisconsin prisons. Several incidents have already occurred involving felons released by Doyle’s catch-and-release initiative. Gov. Walker actually supports letting judges, not politicians, determine these sentences, as do the vast majority of law enforcement officers.

    April 4, 2011 at 2:57 am

  13. Brad

    Hey, Steve. I did read both of your website posts. The only people from the Madison police you have criticized is the union boss for signing the extortion letter to the M and I executive and McClurg for using his name and title in the Youtube video. I cannot find any remarks anywhere where you have said anything negative about Madison officers. Funny thing how Brian Austin has to twist your words to try to make a point. The thing is if Kloppenburg has such a great rep with law enforcement, how come not a single police local (that I can find online anyway) outside of Dane County has endorsed her. Prosser’s website has scores of endorsements from sheriff’s and district attorneys from around the state. I can’t find too many on Kloppenburg’s. Austin and these other Madison union types must believe they are immune from criticism when they publicly take a stance on an important supreme court race. Say one word about them endorsing a lefty Madison environmental extremist and they whine.

    April 4, 2011 at 9:50 am

  14. Derek

    Most of the cuts to school districts are easily off-set by the teacher’s paying a small percentage of their own pension and health care costs. In some distircts, simply having teachers going from the WEAC scam health plan to the state health plan can save hundreds of thousands of dollars. In fact, some school districts in Milwaukee rerported that, even after the Walker cuts, wiith the savings from the budget bill they would see a surplus. I don’t know what is in the water in Madison, after all, Doyle’s own administration reported that the structural deficit is $3.6 billion. I guess if you listen to Michael Moore and Jesse Jackson long enough, you can actually believe what this wacko’s say.

    April 4, 2011 at 3:09 pm

  15. Eric Donaldson

    The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel disagrees with the talking points being circulated by folks like Brian Austin:

    April 5, 2011 at 5:22 pm

  16. Sarah

    The liberal Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The title of this article about Barabas is very pertinent.

    April 5, 2011 at 5:29 pm

  17. Larry

    Here is the actual talking points memo Eric Donaldson was talking about.

    It seems as if the Madison police officers union was carboned copied.

    April 5, 2011 at 10:24 pm

  18. Tony

    You don’t have to look far to see what the self serving interests are with Palmer and or most anyone else at WPPA! There CV’s speak for themselves…Teachers, WEAC and then hired on to WPPA.

    Mc Clurg….wife is in education and daughter is in college to be a teacher..with all that liberal environment going on at home, I would be turned as well…


    April 11, 2011 at 8:12 pm

  19. Shelby

    So now we know the REAL turth behind the McClurg agenda. His significant other and daughter are educational establishment types–the biggest compliainers of any unions! My guess is McClurg is pulling in $70,000 and his wife, at a minimum $40,000, and he is having a tough time of it making it on 110 grand a year! Maybe it is because his Dane County taxes are too high! According to IRS flow charts, McClurg’s family income puts him in the top 15 percent of all family wage earners in the United States…tax the rich, Mr. McClurg…tax yourself.

    April 11, 2011 at 11:45 pm

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