Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

June 27, 2011

Prosser Incident Investigated

Filed under: Wisconsin Supreme Court — millerlf @ 5:20 pm

Following is a Journal Sentinel article on the choking activity of Judge David Prosser.

Threatening or assaulting a judge is a felony, and those found guilty of it are subject to penalties of up to $10,000 and six years in prison. Simple battery is a misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of a $10,000 fine and nine months in jail. But it was not clear if either of those statutes would be invoked in this case.

 

Two probes opened into Bradley claim

By Patrick Marley, Jason Stein and Don Walker of the Journal Sentinel

Updated: June 27, 2011

Madison – Two agencies are investigating a claim by Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley that Justice David Prosser put her in a chokehold earlier this month.

The separate probes are being run by the Dane County Sheriff’s Office and the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, which oversees the state’s judicial ethics code. The sheriff’s investigation was launched Monday; the commission’s was authorized Friday and publicly acknowledged on Monday.

“After consulting with members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, I have turned over the investigation into an alleged incident in the court’s offices on June 13, 2011 to Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney,” Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs said in a statement. “Sheriff Mahoney has agreed to investigate this incident.”

It was not immediately clear why Tubbs would consult with the court on who should investigate the matter.

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said he has not talked to law enforcement about the incident but would review anything that is referred to him.

“As far as I know, nothing at this point has been referred to our office,” Ozanne said Monday.

At about the same time in Milwaukee, Gov. Scott Walker told Journal Sentinel reporters, editors and members of the newspaper’s Editorial Board on Monday that the matter involving Prosser and Bradley was “a serious matter.”

Asked if the reports about Prosser’s behavior, if true, merited his resignation, Walker said: “I don’t even want to go down that path … other than to say that just based on the allegations that were made, I can’t overemphasize how serious I think the situation is there. Until we know what happened, I don’t think it’s best for anybody for me to comment on what the next step is.”

Walker said the issue of friction in the court needed to be addressed.

“I think, again, beyond the particulars of this case…the fact that there appears to be an ongoing friction among justices in the court is something that has to be resolved. I don’t know what the right answer is.”

Walker raised the possibility of a mediator, but was cautious about any involvement from either the executive or legislative branches of government.

Walker also raised the possibility of an appointed Supreme Court, saying that, “long-term, it’s worth looking at.”

Such a change would require a change in the state Constitution. Other states, he said, have appointed and elected justices, but they don’t seem to have “the passion that we’ve seen here in the state Supreme Court.”

Asked if he found the current court to be the most dysfunctional in his memory, Walker replied, “Yeah.”

After reports were published Saturday about the incident, Bradley told the Journal Sentinel that Prosser “put his hands around my neck in anger in a chokehold.” Prior to Bradley giving her account, Prosser issued a statement saying that reports quoting anonymous sources would be proven false. He declined comment Monday.

All justices but N. Patrick Crooks were in Bradley’s suite of offices when the incident happened. None of them but Bradley have spoken publicly about it.

The confrontation happened after hours June 13 as the justices argued in Bradley’s chambers over a case challenging how the Legislature passed a controversial plan to sharply limit collective bargaining for public employees. The next day the court released the decision, which ruled 4-3 that the measure was passed properly and should go into place.

Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs met with all seven justices about the incident involving Prosser and Bradley, sources said.

It is unclear if Tubbs or his officers investigated the incident at the time, if he met with them in an informal setting to help them get along, or both.

The Judicial Commission’s investigation could encounter difficulties because matters of judicial ethics are decided solely by the Supreme Court. In this case, two justices were involved in the matter, and four of the five others were witnesses.

The commission conducts investigations in secret. If it concludes a judge violated the judicial ethics code, it issues a formal complaint. The matter is then heard by a special panel of three appeals court judges. (Under state law, its cases can be heard by a jury instead of the judicial panel, though that has never happened in past cases.)

The judicial panel then makes a recommendation to the Supreme Court on whether it believes the judge violated the ethics code and, if so, what punishment should be imposed. The Supreme Court would then render its ruling.

The state Department of Justice and Madison Police Department are not involved in the investigation, spokesmen for those agencies said.

Ozanne, the Dane County district attorney and a Democrat, was involved in the case that Bradley and Prosser were arguing about just before the altercation. Ozanne said Monday that if law enforcement recommends charges, he will review whether he has a conflict of interest. When there are conflicts, he refers cases to special prosecutors, he said.

The court for years has been cloven by ideological and personal differences. Prosser blew up at Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson in closed session in February 2010, calling her a “bitch,” threatening to “destroy” her and saying when he did so it “won’t be a ground war.”

“Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this stunning development is how given all that we have learned about the court in recent years how untroubling many (people) are likely to find this,” said Marquette Law School professor Peter Rofes. “Entirely apart from the obvious violent nature of this act – and the fear it engendered in a female member of the court – as each day passes the people of Wisconsin have less reason to believe that there is very much legitimacy left in this incredibly important institution.”

Cary Spivak of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

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