We like to think of judges, particularly Supreme Court Justices, as contemplative, fair and even-tempered. The reality is far from that. That reality is furthest for the Wisconsin Supreme Court where physical altercations between justices have been reported.
Back on June 13, 2011, Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and David Prosser had an altercation. The court was gathered together in private arguing Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-public employee union legislation. That is when Prosser is reported to have put his hands around Bradley’s neck. The details have been sketchy because the justices have avoided public discussion of it.
Prosser is facing judicial misconduct charges and Bradley recused herself with a written explanation. Apparently, Bradley and Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson have been the victims of “abusive temper tantrums” by Prosser.
Think about it. Here is one of the people at the top of power in the state of Wisconsin. Prosser has the power to reinterpret or even nullifly laws, and he has anger management issues like an out-of-control nine-year-old. This type of behavior is the antithesis of the rule of law. Instead of factual, detached considerations of the law, Prosser is running about doing court business with his emotions out of control. Worse, he appears to be bullying female justices in an attempt to intimidate them.
“To this day, the Chief Justice and I continue to lock ourselves inside our private offices when working alone because of concerns for our physical safety due to Justice Prosser’s behavior. That is not a satisfactory solution. Our court needs to address and solve its workplace safety issue. If nothing is done, I wonder what will happen next in this escalating pattern of abusive behavior.”
Anytime a justice creates this much fear in other justices, there are some real problems going on. There are not going to be any negotiations and give and take on court business between Abrahamson, Bradley and Prosser. The court only has seven members and three of them are in a workplace situation where they can’t work together.
This isn’t any way to run a state’s legal system. Yet it is even worse because other justices have stuck their heads into the sand. Bradley writes:
“It was reported recently that when asked about how the court is operating, Justice Roggensack responded ‘We are doing just fine’ and that ‘we are working very well together.’ She contended that any ‘talk of dysfunction and incivility on the seven-member court [is] ‘just a bunch of gossip at its worst.’ It strains credulity that a justice on our court would be perpetuating the myth that our issues of workplace safety and work environment have somehow healed themselves.”
So Wisconsin doesn’t just have three of its seven justices in a dysfunctional relationship. Other justices have bought into this horrible workplace environment by simply ignoring it.
Efforts to bring in conflict resolution experts are not likely to happen either. An attempt to do this was voted down 4-3. There’s something wrong with the Wisconsin Supreme Court and it isn’t just one justice trying to choke another. The entire working relationship is a disaster. The real losers are the people of Wisconsin, who have a severely dysfunctional court that is unlikely to accomplish much of anything.