Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate focuses on parade crash

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A conservative candidate in a pivotal race for Wisconsin Supreme Court is using video images of an SUV that drove through a Christmas parade in suburban Milwaukee, killing six people, in her first television ad of the race released Thursday.

Waukesha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow gained national attention for presiding over the trial of Darrell Brooks, whom a jury convicted of six homicide counts. Dorow sentenced Brooks to life in prison with no chance of release and launched her candidacy for Supreme Court two weeks later.

Dorow is one of four candidates, and one of two conservatives, in the race for an open state Supreme Court seat that will determine whether the court remains under conservative control or flips to liberals. Both sides see the race as crucial because of the court's role as the final word in battleground Wisconsin, where the Legislature is controlled by Republicans and the governor is a Democrat.

Whoever wins the April 4 election will determine majority control for the next two years. That period includes the 2024 presidential election. The state Supreme Court ruled against former President Donald Trump in a lawsuit he brought after the 2020 election in which he tried to disqualify enough votes to overturn President Joe Biden's victory.

A Feb. 21 primary will narrow the Supreme Court race to the top two vote-getters.

The contours of the court race, which is nonpartisan in name only, are shaping up much like the midterm elections. Conservative candidates are rallying around criminal justice issues, experience and backing from law enforcement while liberals are focusing on abortion and talking about issues like redistricting.

In her first ad released last week, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Janet Protasiewicz promises to protect a woman's right to choose an abortion.

Dorow has been endorsed by Wisconsin Right to Life, which only backs candidates “who have pledged to champion pro-life values and stand with Wisconsin Right to Life’s legislative strategy,” according to its website. Kelly is endorsed by Wisconsin Right to Life and the state's two other largest anti-abortion groups, Wisconsin Family Action and Pro-Life Wisconsin.

The state Supreme Court is expected to eventually decide a pending legal challenge to Wisconsin's 1849 law banning abortions, which went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.

The other two candidates are former conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly and liberal Dane County Circuit Judge Everett Mitchell. Neither of them have released television ads with the primary less than three weeks away.

None of the other three candidates immediately responded to emails seeking comment on the Dorow ad.

Dorow's spot begins with a video of Brooks' red SUV driving into the path of a marching band during the Waukesha parade in November 2021. Her ad does not show the vehicle hitting people, but she does include video that shows the response as people run and police respond.

“Judge Jennifer Dorow ensured justice was served,” the narrator says over images of Dorow in the courtroom, Brooks starting at her and of him shirtless during a court hearing. Brooks was often disruptive during the trial, and Dorow's handling of his behavior during the nationally broadcast trial won her praise and her office was flooded with gifts and congratulatory emails.