David Prosser, just re-elected to another 10-year term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a tight election, allegedly “grabbed fellow Justice Ann Bradley Walsh by the neck” prior to the release of the hasty ruling on the anti-union bill, which the court eventually upheld.
Details of the incident, investigated jointly by Wisconsin Public Radio and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, remain sketchy. The sources spoke on the condition that they not be named, citing a need to preserve professional relationships.
They say an argument that occurred before the court’s release of a decision upholding a bill to curtail the collective bargaining rights of public employees culminated in a physical altercation in the presence of other justices. Bradley purportedly asked Prosser to leave her office, whereupon Prosser grabbed Bradley by the neck with both hands.
Justice Prosser, contacted Friday afternoon by the Center, declined comment: “I have nothing to say about it.” He repeated this statement after the particulars of the story — including the allegation that there was physical contact between him and Bradley — were described. He did not confirm or deny any part of the reconstructed account.
The Capitol Police were apparently called out for this incident, and the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, the investigative overseer of the judicial branch, was brought in on the matter as well, though they did not confirm or deny this.
During Prosser’s re-election campaign, there was an report that he called Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson a “total bitch” who he would “destroy,” comments Prosser eventually acknowledged. So this is at least the second incident of violent verbal or, in this case, physical violence coming from Prosser.
Prosser, A Republican, won re-election by around 7,000 votes out of nearly 1.5 million case over JoAnne Kloppenburg, a Democratic assistant US Attorney. Kloppenburg had a razor-thin lead before thousands of votes from the city of Brookfield in Waukesha County were mysteriously “found” two days after the election. After a recount, the decision was confirmed, and Prosser awarded the victory.
But after this incident, that decision may have to be rethought. Assault of this type, if it’s proven true, is a class H felony under Wisconsin law. As Ian Milhiser notes, there are mechanisms in Wisconsin to remove Prosser, although it’s doubtful any of them would be employed immediately. Prosser could be impeached, but that would require a majority vote in the Assembly to impeach and a 2/3 vote in the Senate to convict. There’s something called a “removal by address,” but again that’s through a 2/3 vote of each house of the legislature. Prosser could actually be recalled from office, much like the Senate recalls. But he gets a one-year grace period from the beginning of his term (which doesn’t start until August), so that couldn’t occur for a year.
So the only real option is resignation, which I would suspect some organizations in Wisconsin will call for soon. We’ve all seen Republicans in Wisconsin ignore standard norms practically every step of the way since the election of Scott Walker, and I wouldn’t expect any different from Prosser. But he deserves a lot of pressure over this. The guy obviously has nothing close to a judicial temperament, and may actually be a felon under Wisconsin law.
Another interesting aspect of this is the timing, coming right before the release of the decision on the anti-union law. You may remember this highly ideological decision, written in part by Prosser, where the state Supreme Court along party lines both took the case and gave the ruling on the same day. The ruling amounted to “if the legislature does it, then it’s not illegal,” dismissing the violation of open meetings requirements during the passage of the anti-union bill by saying basically that the legislature wasn’t bound by it. There have been allegations of close contact between Republican Justices and legislative leaders, and the evidence surrounding the case comes close to confirming that. Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald announced on June 13 that, if there were no Supreme Court decision, his chamber would pass the anti-union bill again as part of the budget. The next day, the Supreme Court delivered their ruling.
I would imagine we haven’t heard the last of this.