On June 13, 2011, the Wisconsin Supreme Court gathered in their chambers to chat about their decision to strike down the judicial over-reach of Judge Maryann Sumi, who had acted on behalf of public employee unions to block Governor Scott Walker’s reforms. The discussion grew heated, as such conversations between justices in Wisconsin are evidently prone to do.
Anonymous sources accused the recently re-elected Justice David Prosser, a top union target, of physically attacking liberal Justice Ann Walsh Bradley. Specifically, it was claimed he used a choke hold on her, which would be an act of felony criminal assault. Bradley made the accusation herself to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, stating “the facts are that I was demanding he get out of my office and he put his hands around my neck in anger in a chokehold.” Wisconsin Public Radio and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism pushed the story hard.
Liberals who were still seething after Prosser’s narrow re-election called for his resignation. Bradley began ostentatiously using herself as a poster child for “issues of workplace safety.” For example, when the charges against Prosser were eventually dropped, she issued this statement:
This is and remains an issue of workplace safety.
My focus from the outset has not been one of criminal prosecution, but rather addressing workplace safety….
I well understand the difficulty of gaining any criminal conviction. The prosecution’s burden of proof is very heavy, as it should be….
With the potential for prosecution now eliminated, I will renew my efforts to seek the cooperation of my colleagues on the court to resolve this progressive workplace safety issue. With the continued cooperation of others both on court staff and outside the court, I remain committed to the goal that we can achieve the safe workplace that all employees—private and public—are entitled to have under the law.
Last week, the Dane County Sherriff’s Department released the details of its investigation, and they completely vindicate Justice David Prosser’s account of the incident. It was Bradley who attacked Prosser. She lost her cool and rushed him, getting into his face with one hand either partially or fully clenched into a fist. Prosser, who is 68 years old (seven years older than Bradley) threw up his hands to defend himself, inadvertently making brief contact with her neck.
It would seem that losses of temper – by Bradley, Prosser, and virtually every other justice – are not uncommon in the august halls of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports:
The justices’ statements in separate interviews with law enforcement were released Friday by the Dane County Sheriff’s Department. The 117 pages of investigation records provide intimate details about the physical altercation on June 13 between the two justices and the increasing dysfunction on the state’s highest court.
The interviews include cross-claims of justices accusing one another of shouting, slamming doors, being physically threatening and locking their doors at night because of safety concerns. At least a couple of statements appeared to be contradicted by those of other justices.
If you ever visit the chambers of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, walk slowly and carefully, lest you run into one of the many pointing fingers and poke your eye out.
William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection, who has been closely following the case, summarizes the fallout from the official investigation:
By suggesting that Prosser committed a crime but it could not be proven, Bradley once again demonstrated an inability to consider the significance of her own actions.
Bradley and Bradley alone was the person who turned an argument in which she was not even involved into a face-to-face physical confrontation.
It was bad enough that Bradley made a false public accusation that a chokehold was used on her. That accusation has forever damaged David Prosser.
Bradley compounded that error by invoking workplace safety as a rhetorical sword and shield to direct attention away from her own aggressive conduct. By falsely crying workplace safety, Bradley damaged the fight against real workplace violence.
Bradley has also demonstrated herself unfit to sit on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, or any other court. She made serious false allegations against Prosser, and not just in a single heated interview. She repeated these allegations over a period of time, and allowed others to blast them through a media megaphone. The principled liberals who howled for Prosser’s resignation will surely begin calling for Bradley to step down, and she should oblige them.