In the midst of a heated mayoral race and the looming 2004 presidential elections, the Court of Appeals race between Appellate Judge Charles B. Schudson and challenger Joan Kessler may seem unimportant to many Milwaukee residents. However, a major battle between the two contenders has been brewing for some time, and the result could have repercussions for everything from civil rights to employment issues.
Both contenders were already in full campaign mode before a recent Shepherd Express article raised questions about Appellate Judge Charles B. Schudson’s acceptance of speaking fees. Schudson has accused the paper of deliberately slanting the article to harm his campaign in the heated Court of Appeals race. The article, written by reporter Doug Hissom and published Jan. 29 with the headline “On Your Honor: Judge Schudson pockets $112,000 in speaking fees,” details Schudson’s history of accepting fees to speak primarily about sexually abused children. The article’s errors include everything from family to financial information.
Hissom writes, “As for taking money, Schudson says it helped pay for his daughters’ college education.” Schudson has two sons, and no daughters. Hissom writes that Schudson receives $3,400 a semester as a faculty member at the UW-Madison law school. Schudson received $2,400 plus expenses, he said. Referring to a recent letter to Kessler signed by the chief judge of the state appeals court, R. Thomas Cane, Hissom writes, “What the letter doesn’t mention is that Judge Cane is co-chair of Schudson’s campaign.” In fact, the third paragraph of the letter states, “Chief Judge Cane agreed to co-chair the campaign.”
Hissom declined to comment publicly on the matter.
On Feb. 5, the paper printed a correction, stating that Cane did disclose his campaign affiliation, and correcting the gender of Schudson’s children.
“We could get tired and dizzy talking about all of the errors in the article,” said Schudson. Instead, he said, people should focus on a larger issue — why the Shepherd Express chose to present his speaking engagements in a negative light. Campaign opponent Joan Kessler has repeatedly made an issue of Schudson’s acceptance of speaking fees. “I think that when taxpayers pay a state employee $115,000 a year, they expect full-time, undiluted service for that employee,” Kessler said. “Voters can come to their own conclusions.”
According to sources, Shepherd Express publisher Louis Fortis and Joan Kessler’s husband, Fred Kessler, are close personal friends.
Referring to the article, Schudson said, “It’s indicative of the publisher’s efforts to impugn my integrity and support his friends.” Fortis disputed this charge, stating, “I’m shocked that Charlie [Schudson] is trying to argue that this is due to some friendship with the Kesslers. I’ve known Charlie longer than I’ve known Fred Kessler.”
In the article, Hissom writes that accepting speaking fees is “probably more corrupt [than soliciting campaign contributions], since the honoraria go directly into the judge’s pocket.”
Schudson disagreed vehemently with this characterization. “Not only is there nothing wrong with what I’ve done, there’s so much that’s right about it,” he said. As a national expert on sexually abused children, Schudson said he believes it is his duty to educate legal professionals about the issue. “There are people at the highest levels of American judiciary saying you are the person in the nation to train those people to give sexually abused children justice,” he said. “It was a tremendous strain, but one I had to accept. It was a professional dream come true.”
Schudson also noted that all the fees he receives for speaking at conferences or events sponsored by judicial education organizations go directly to fund judicial education. The money is paid directly to the Director of State Courts, he said. For engagements not sponsored by judicial education organizations, Schudson takes vacation time — an average of 4.8 days per year — and keeps the speaking fees he earns, he said.
This arrangement has been officially approved by the State of Wisconsin Ethics Board. In addition, Schudson said that most of the time he does not charge any fees for speaking engagements, and that he brings his court work with him on speaking engagements, including those occurring during vacation time.
“I may be a workaholic, but I’m not corrupt,” he said.
Fortis stands behind the story. “Other than the small items we corrected, that article is 100 percent factually correct,” he said.
Shepherd Express Publishes Major Mis-Information about Folaron
A major error in a Shepherd Express article about mayoral candidate Sandy Folaron forced her campaign to spend significant time in the days leading up to the primary correcting the mistake. The Feb. 4 article by reporter Doug Hissom stated that Folaron still owed $7,323.81 in property taxes on her home. The charge was false. The City Treasurer confirmed that Folaron’s taxes are up-to date. Shepherd Express publisher Louis Fortis made an appearance at Folaron’s election night gathering at O’Brien’s to express his apologies. “A little late,” Folaron campaign manager Molly Christofferson commented.