The Wisconsin Judicial Commission is investigating State Supreme Court Justice David Prosser for putting his hands around the neck of Justice Ann Walsh Bradley and for calling Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson “a total bitch.”
There are two differing accounts about the incident between Bradley and Prosser. One claims that Prosser assaulted Bradley and put her in a choke hold. Another story states that Bradley charged Prosser with her fists raised. Prosser then raised his arms to protect himself but contact between Prosser’s hands and Bradley’s neck occurred. That must be the old “her neck got in the way of my hands” defense.
The Judicial Commission is recommending that Prosser be reprimanded, but Prosser will have none of that. He has taken the novel approach that the Judicial Commission’s involvement is a violation of the separation of powers.
“For an outside agency dominated by gubernatorial appointees to seek to breach the confidentiality of closed Supreme Court conferences in order to monitor, oversee and prosecute the speech and lawful conduct of justices would violate the separation of powers and disrupt the work of the Supreme Court,” Prosser responded.
Prosser conveniently ignores the principles of checks and balances that go side-by-side with the separation of powers. The separation of powers exists so that each of the branches of government can operate independently. However, checks and balances are placed on each branch by the other branches so that none of them becomes too powerful.
Prosser goes even a step further. The alleged assault, which can barely be called alleged since Prosser admits to some form of an altercation, was witnessed by all the other Wisconsin justices except one. Prosser states that all of the witnesses plus Bradley should recuse themselves because they cannot sit as judges for an incident that they witnessed. Following Prosser’s recommendation would prevent a quorum from seating, effectively ending any disciplinary action against Prosser. Prosser claims this makes the Judicial Commission’s involvement “frivolous.” As the victim, Bradley has already recused herself from the case.
Prosser goes onto claim that further discussion of this matter breaches the court’s confidentiality and the investigation should be stopped. Prosser wrote in his response that the commission “may not investigate or prosecute protected speech, advocacy and etiquette of Wisconsin Supreme Court justices when they are deliberating in confidential closed conferences.”
Apparently, this is how Prosser sees calling the Chief Justice a “bitch” and putting another justice in a stranglehold. It is all just a misstep of etiquette. Most people think that a breach of etiquette is failing to hold a door open for someone who is approaching it, or wiping one’s mouth with a shirt sleeve instead of a napkin. For Prosser, wrapping his hands around the neck of a fellow Supreme Court justice is just poor etiquette. It will be interesting to see who else buys into this novel approach.