In the 2 1/2 weeks since a county judge here had made comments from the bench linking rape with sexual permissiveness and provocative women's clothing, more than 14,000 voters have signed petitions that he be recalled.
The outrage that followed Judge Archie E. Simonson's statements about rapists being encouraged by loose sexual standards, his admonitions to women to "stop teasing" men with their dress and his observation that "whether they like it or not, women are sex objects" has been ectraordinary even for a city like Madison, a capital and university town that thrives on political controversy.
State law requires about 21,000 signatures to force Simonson onto the ballot for a recall election, so his opponents are well on their way to their goal. Two candidates have already announced their intentions to oppose Simonson.Wisconsin is one of eight states that allow the recall of judges, but no judge has ever been recalled in the state.
There has been several rallies protesting Simonson's remarks, songs written mocking him, and an unprecedented flood of letters and telephone calls to local newspapers denouncing him.
The Madison City Council, two suburban city councils, the county board ans the school board have all overwhelmingly approved resolutions calling for Simonson's removal. The Wisconsin Judicial Council, which oversees judicial conduct, has said it will investigate Simonson to see if censure is warranted.
All of this is occuring in a city with a long liberal tradition, where the women's movement is well developed and where rape is viewed as the No. 1 crime problem. Philip Ball, an assistant to mayor Paul Soglin, said Simonson's statements had affected people here more deeply than anything since the Vietnam war.
Not all the reaction has been negative. Simonson's office said he had received about 15,000 letters since the controversy began, with them running slightly in his favor.
What touched off this storm was a May 25 sentencing hearing for a 15-year-old boy who, along with two other boys, was involved in a sexual assault on a 16-year-old girl at a local high school.
Simonson sentenced the youth to a year at home under court supervision.
When the prosecutor in the case argued that the youth should be put in a residential treatment center rather than left at home, Simonson launched into a discussion of sexual permissiveness in Madison and what he described as a provocative clothing worn by women.
"Are we supposed to take an impressionable person, 15 or 16 years of age, who can respond to something like that, and punished that person severely because they react to it normally?" Simonson asked. TReaction came from two directions.
Some people protest that lightness of the sentence for so severe a crime. "Perhaps the community will wake up and start to take notice of some of these marshmallow judges who refuse to take harder lines on the criminal element on our society," Madison resident Jim Kaleas wrote in a letter to one newspaper.
The more vocal and organized reaction, however, was to what protesters called the "sexism" of Simonson's remarks both from the bench and in later interviews. A common theme was that rape is not a crime of sexual passion but one of violence - a belief reflected by the state legislature last year.
"We consider his attitudes a danger to women and an insult to men," said Mr. and Mrs. George Madrell of Madison in another letter to the editor.
The 52-year-old Simonson, first elected to the bench in 1972, has been controversial throughout his career as a judge. Several of his major decisions have been reversed and attorneys critized his court policy.
At first he seem to be enjoying all the attention this latest controversy caused but then he said he became the subject of physical threats, intense verbal abuse, constant telephone calls and "probably worse, a total unwillingness to have any understanding for what I do or say."
Last week he hired Richard Cates, a highly respected local attorney and a veteran of the impeachment staff of the House Judiciary Committee, to advise him. Then Simonson cut off all communication with reporters and left for a week's unplanned vacation.
Cates had tried to shift attention to the issue of whether recalling a judge for a decision he makes or statements he issues from the bench is appropriate. "It the courts here are to be tyrannized by interest groups, indeed even by the majority of the people, the ultimate victim will be the liberty of the individual," Simonson said in a statement Cates released for him.
Simonson will return from his vacation on Monday and will immediately be back on center stage again. He has been assigned to preside over a preliminary hearing for a 25-year-old Madison man charged with rape. Although such a hearing is generally technical in nature, Simonson's treatment of it will be closely observed.