BASCO – There was more sports gear and sweat than at your typical swearing-in ceremony.
Jill Karofsky charged into Basco on Saturday afternoon, 35 miles into her 100-mile run. Alongside her was state Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Dallet, who had run the previous five miles with her.
Taking a break on the lawn of Dot’s Tavern in this southern Dane County town, Dallet administered the oath of office to Karofsky, initiating her 10-year term on Wisconsin’s high court. The new justice wore shorts and a T-shirt instead of a robe.
“I have been to a lot of swearing-ins in my life,” former Gov. Jim Doyle told the crowd of about 50. “But this is a first.”
It was an unusual event that followed an unusual campaign.
Karofsky and Justice Daniel Kelly turned their political operations into virtual enterprises this spring when the coronavirus pandemic began sweeping the nation. Karofsky won the April election, boosting the liberal wing of the court and shrinking the conservative majority from 5-2 to 4-3.
“Now we are able to continue to make sure that the voices of the people of Wisconsin are heard,” Karofsky told the crowd Saturday. “And they know that they are going to get a fair shake in their Supreme Court.”
Speaking at the ceremony were Doyle, Dallet and Karofsky’s children, Daphne, 19, and Danny, 16. Justice Ann Walsh Bradley was also in attendance, as was Lucky, the puppy Karofsky promised her kids she would get them if she won the court seat.
Doyle, a Democrat who led the state from 2003 to 2011, said he believed Karofsky would help restore the reputation of a court that he said has been hurt in recent years. But that doesn’t mean Karofsky will also rule the way liberals want, he said.
“There are going to be times that you’re going to be a little upset with Judge Jill Karofsky because she’s going to make decisions that are based on the facts and the law,” Doyle said. “And she’s not going to make them based on a political ideology that leads her to a decision that then you have to go backwards to try to justify how you got there.”
With her swearing-in Saturday, Karofsky gave up her seat on the Dane County Circuit Court. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers appointed Democratic state Rep. Chris Taylor of Madison to replace her.
Typically, incoming justices hold small, staid affairs on the day they are sworn in and more formal investitures weeks later. Karofsky plans to eventually hold an investiture like other justices, but decided on something different for her swearing-in event.
Karofsky, a former high school tennis champion who has completed two Ironman competitions, planned to participate in a 100-mile run in 2018 but couldn’t because of a ruptured hamstring. The injury was so severe that she feared she might not be able to run again.
This year, Karofsky signed up for a 100-mile run that was scheduled the same day that the Supreme Court’s term starts.
Officially, the run was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic but she decided to run the route anyway. She started alone at 6 a.m. Saturday in Orangeville, Illinois, and was joined for portions of it later by Dallet and others.
“I think you learn a lot about yourself when you put yourself in situations that are challenging and difficult and you have to solve problems under circumstances that are hard,” she said in an interview. “Being a good lawyer, running ultramarathons, being in a campaign — all of those come down to how you solve problems. And if a problem comes up you can either freak out or you can say, ‘OK, I’ve got a blister; I’ve got to handle it.’ So I think there are a lot of lessons to learn.”
After she took the oath of office, Karofsky headed down the road. She had 65 miles to go and expected to finish by noon Sunday. She planned to run overnight alongside a high school friend.
“I’m finishing,” she said. “If my toes are bloody stumps and I’m dragging them across the 100-mile mark tomorrow morning, I’m finishing. Whatever it takes.”
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.