Conservatives from all over, taking their cue from the harsh rhetoric of Wisconsin legislative leaders like Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, have unleashed a torrent of abuse on Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi, who has confounded Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union agenda.
"You should be impeached," declares a letter addressed "Dear Comrade" from Richard McKee of Phoenix, Ariz. "Your alliance with large labor thugs and bullies is treasonous. Your salary should be confiscated, your pension cancelled, and you should be jailed as an enemy of democracy."
Judge Sumi, an Isthmus review found, has drawn more than 70 letters, postcards and emails since March 18. That's when she issued a restraining order against Walker's bill to gut public employee union rights, slash Medicaid payments and tighten his grip over state agencies, saying its passage likely violated the state's Open Meetings Law. She later extended her order indefinitely, until the named defendants show up in court.
The Republicans have responded by attacking Sumi (originally appointed by GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson) as a liberal activist judge and asking the state Supreme Court to rule that the judiciary has no business telling the Legislature what to do (not that the bill was passed legally).
This disrespect toward Sumi is echoed in the correspondence she's received. About 80% is critical; most contacts with a discernible address are from out of state, in one case from someone who can't even spell Wisconsin. Some examples (spelling and punctuation preserved):
"The law against collective bargaining is none of her freaking business. She is not a lawmaker, the state legislature and governor are." Email from Johnny Thompson, address unknown.
"Comrade Vladimir Lenin...and Stalin and others like them are obviously your inspirations.... The only comfort we patriots get from this is the fact that...these sub-human animals [and their close supporters} were all rewarded with a cruel and savage death." Email from Jean-Claude Guenette, Albuquerque, N.M.
"I for one would like someone to answer who the fuck does this piece of shit judge think she is overturning the will of the people. I think she should be locked up, not sitting on the bench. She is a piece of shit." Email from Wayne Stottlar.
"I'm sure your actions are to insure union backed reelection or even payoffs." Email from Paul Wendlick. (Sumi, running unopposed, was reelected last week.)
"May I ask as a taxpayer, why the union people could come to WI & tear up the Capitol building, who's paying for that?" Letter from Shirley Olson, Maple Park, Ill.
"By virtue of the fact that you are a Wisconson state employee who could be affected by the [bill], you cannot be an impartial judge in this matter and should recuse yourself and all other state compensated judges should do the same." Fax from Christopher Colvin, Colorado Springs.
"Your not a judge in the true sense, to me your just another bought paid for leftist political hack pushing a socialist agenda. You spit on the Wisconsin constitution, it's laws and it's people.... This is not a democracy, this is a tyranny by radical leftwing activists." Anonymous letter from someone who goes on to commend a book on "another sick evil leftist bastard" named Adolf Hitler.
"I am a 77-year-old grandmother from Illinois who would like you to know you have totally lost your senses. If you were a Californian your actions would make sense because they have no morals whatsoever." Letter from Dolores McGuire.
"You are a member of a malicious group of thugs.... I am ashamed of our profoundly tainted Left leaning judicial." Letter from King P. Coles Sr.
"Here's a restraining order for you: Stop interpreting the law! Stop overreaching your authority!" From an anonymous letter with a Milwaukee postmark that includes a graphic of Judge Sumi's face affixed to a horse's behind.
Sumi says she's not looked at these communications, which are not part of the official case file, but others in the court system have. She adds that workers in her office have fielded a much larger volume of calls, including some that were abusive and threatening. These were not tallied or transcribed.
Does Walker camp care about critical calls?
Cate Riedl says she tried once or twice a day, then every few days. In all, the rural Walworth County resident reckons she called the office of Gov. Scott Walker more than 20 times in recent weeks. But the number (608-266-1212) was always busy or else no one answered.
Last week, Riedl got through for the first time and spoke to a young man named Tristan. She wanted someone to explain Walker's divisive assessment of the close Supreme Court election: "You've got a world driven by Madison, and a world driven by everybody else" in Wisconsin.
She noted that plenty of people all over Wisconsin did not support the GOP-favored candidate, David Prosser, remarking, "When [Walker] makes statements like that, it's offensive."
At this, she says Tristan laughed. He said he'd pass her comments on, never asking for her contact information to provide the explanation she requested.
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie, asked about this episode, says "we have been increasing the number of individuals who help answer the governor's main office phone line." He adds that contact information is typically taken when people call with questions.
Riedl thinks the process is a "charade," and her call was not handled in a professional way. "The feeling I got was they really don't care about anyone else's opinion."
On the other hand, Werwie atypically responded to a contact from Isthmus. That's progress.
The damage done?
It's now been more than a month since Department of Administration spokeswoman Carla Vigue said "it may be several days" before the state had an estimate of the damage caused to the state Capitol by protesters. Last week Tuesday, Vigue said it "could be another week" still. More than a week later, when Isthmus went to press, no new information had been provided.
Vigue says Chuck Quagliana, a historic preservation architect who works for the UW-Madison, conducted his "initial walk-through" on March 10. "He is now verifying what he initially saw so he can give us a report of what the damages are and suggestions as to how we can address them."
Initially, a DOA official claimed in court that tape from banners and signs had caused $7.5 million in damage; the damage estimate, including Capitol grounds, was later reduced to $347,000. And stone expert Jacob Arndt believes the tape caused no damage at all (Watchdog, 3/17/11).
Quagliano did not return phone messages from Isthmus.