To the Editor:
A recap for those keeping score – on Jan. 12, Judge Kolker’s blog accused the Ruocco campaign of social media “copying.” He sent press releases repeating the dramatic allegations to local media. When approached for comment on Jan. 17, Ruocco gave a statement to the Madison-St. Clair Record. The Record summarized Kolker’s allegations and Ruocco’s statement in a Jan. 17 column.
The Kolker campaign targeted Ruocco again Jan. 19 in a new letter to the editor. The Ruocco campaign’s response to this latest piece is below. After reviewing my Jan. 17 statement, the Kolker campaign responded yesterday that “facts are stubborn things” – and I wholeheartedly agree. Here are the pertinent “facts” about Judge Kolker’s woefully unfounded allegations and the subsequent turmoil he orchestrated:
Fact #1 – Judge Kolker falsely stated in writing that I was a “thief.” He went so far as to use this slur in a headline reading “Judge Kolker to Katherine Ruocco: ‘Stop, Thief!”
Kolker knowingly made this statement in a public forum where he knew countless third parties were present (Facebook). The false statement is still posted on his Facebook page at the time of this writing.
Fact #2 – Judge Kolker then paid a third party (Facebook) to repeatedly deliver this known false statement to countless other third parties in a “sponsored” Facebook ad for several days. Kolker’s paid advertisement bore the same provocative headline of “Judge Kolker to Katherine Ruocco: ‘Stop, Thief!”
Fact #3 – The alleged “theft” involved my staff posting a public link to a slideshow hosted on a third-party platform (www.SlideShare.net) by a third-party user (Katie Davis). The slideshow bore no indication of Judge Kolker’s name or campaign name. The slideshow was never altered, moved, or duplicated – it was merely linked on our Facebook page, which always credited its origin and bore author Katie Davis’ name. We removed the link promptly and amicably after learning (through Kolker’s angry blog) that Davis was his wife and had created the slides for his campaign.
The other ludicrous “theft” allegations involved: our website using a common three-word phrase (“raising the bar”) within an article’s eight-word subtitle, our Facebook offering a link to healthcare.gov on the first day of open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act, and our campaign “cop[ying] various posts” that are suspiciously unidentified (read: nonexistent).
Even a cursory comparison of our respective Facebook pages reveals that Kolker’s allegations are baseless and unfounded. It is clear that no “theft” has occurred. Nonetheless, Kolker funded a week-long advertising campaign that continually published his false statement to countless community members (bearing the same incendiary headline where he labels me a criminal in his capacity as a judge).
This false allegation of theft appears to be defamatory per se. If any private citizen defamed a sitting judge this way, that person would likely find himself at the wrong end of a prompt civil lawsuit.
Finally, the Kolker campaign’s most recent opinion letter (from Jan. 19) renews Kolker’s erroneous assertion that I “ran last election cycle” with Judge Ronald Duebbert (who has felony charges pending). This is untrue. Kolker’s only support for this baseless suggestion is a single photograph taken after dozens of candidates finished walking in a local parade and I was momentarily standing with my staffers (all wearing white “Ruocco” shirts) beside Judge Duebbert (wearing his black “Duebbert” shirt).
Drawing such a farfetched conclusion of affiliation is foolish and misleading at best, and deceptive and opportunistic at worst. Beyond inappropriately using Duebbert’s pending case to further his own political agenda online, Judge Kolker’s remarks should also be very concerning to private citizens.
Impartiality is a hallmark of the judicial system. Innocence until proven guilty. Kolker implies that due to his pending charges, Duebbert is not aligned with “raising the bar” – i.e. Duebbert has deficient character. Suggesting that anyone with pending charges must have deficient character (without first being tried and found guilty) is concerning.
The Kolker campaign states that while “these matters are all trivial in the grand scheme of things,” they nonetheless “speak to character and judgment.” I disagree that Judge Kolker acting in such an impulsive, reckless, and bullying manner is trivial. But I wholeheartedly agree that this behavior calls into question character and judgment.
Regardless of how Judge Kolker tries to explain away his false accusations and inappropriate use of a pending case, the fact is that he acted improperly. Despite Judge Kolker’s attacks and apparent efforts to silence me, I will continue working to restore public confidence and preserve the integrity of our judiciary. If Judge Kolker has similarly productive goals, perhaps he should stop bullying, name-calling, and making false accusations against private citizens.
Judge Kolker’s unreasonable behavior creates a chilling effect that discourages the legitimate exercise of one’s legal right to speak. We don’t need bullies on the bench.
Katherine Ruocco, candidate for circuit judge