A serious allegation has been leveled against newly re-elected conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, who earlier allegedly called a female fellow justice a “total bitch.”
The allegation comes from a report by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, which reported on Saturday:
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser allegedly grabbed fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley around the neck in an argument in her chambers last week, according to at least three knowledgeable sources. But other sources have offered a conflicting account, and Prosser on Saturday declared that the claims, once investigated, will be “proven false.”
Details of the incident, first disclosed Saturday morning in a joint report 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.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in an article published late Saturday, reported that the incident took place in Justice Bradley’s chambers on June 13, the day before the court issued its decision upholding a bill to curtail the collective bargaining rights of public employees.
The sources who spoke to the Center and WPR said an argument about that ruling culminated in a physical altercation in the presence of other justices. They say Bradley purportedly asked Prosser to leave her office, whereupon Prosser grabbed Bradley by the neck with both hands.
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.
On late Saturday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, Prosser issued a statement: “Once there’s a proper review of the matter and the facts surrounding it are made clear, the anonymous claims made to the media will be proven false. Until then, I will refrain from further public comment.”
Bradley initially declined comment as well, but in a story posted to the Journal Sentinel’s website on Sunday, she finally spoke out:
“The facts are that I was demanding that he get out of my office and he put his hands around my neck in anger in a chokehold,” Bradley told the Journal Sentinel.
And the Sentinel reported new, and competing, details about the alleged incident (along with the aforementioned Prosser statement):
A source who spoke to several justices present during the incident told the Journal Sentinel that the confrontation occurred after 5:30 p.m. June 13, the day before the high court’s release of a decision upholding a bill to curtail the collective bargaining rights of public employees.
Six of the court’s seven justices – Justice N. Patrick Crooks was not present – had gathered in Bradley’s chambers. Some were informally discussing the decision.
The conversation grew heated, and Bradley asked Prosser to leave. Bradley was bothered by disparaging remarks Prosser had made about Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, a source said.
Bradley felt Prosser “was attacking the chief justice,” the source said.
Before leaving, Prosser “put his hands around her neck in what (Bradley) described as a chokehold,” the source said.
“He did not exert any pressure, but his hands were around her neck,” the source said.
The source said the act “was in no way playful.”
But another source told the Journal Sentinel that Bradley attacked Prosser.
“She charged him with fists raised,” the source said.
Prosser “put his hands in a defensive posture,” the source said. “He blocked her.”
In doing so, the source said, he made contact with Bradley’s neck.
Argument over decision
Another source said the justices were arguing over the timing of the release of the opinion, which legislative leaders had insisted they needed by June 14 because of their work on the state budget. As the justices discussed the case, Abrahamson said she didn’t know whether the decision would come out this month, the source said.
At that point, Prosser said he’d lost all confidence in her leadership. Bradley then came across the room “with fists up,” the source said. Prosser put up his hands to push her back.
Bradley then said she had been choked, according to the source. Another justice – the source wouldn’t say who – responded, “You were not choked.”
In an interview, Bradley said: “You can try to spin those facts and try to make it sound like I ran up to him and threw my neck into his hands, but that’s only spin.
“Matters of abusive behavior in the workplace aren’t resolved by competing press releases. I’m confident the appropriate authorities will conduct a thorough investigation of this incident involving abusive behavior in the workplace.”
The other justices didn’t return calls or declined to comment.
Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs was notified of the incident, a source told the Journal Sentinel. Tubbs met with the entire Supreme Court about the incident, the source said.
Sources told the Center for Investigative Journalism that the matter was called to the attention of the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, which investigates allegations of misconduct involving judges. James Alexander, executive director of the commission, said that “we can neither confirm nor deny” that the incident was under investigation. Prosser, a former Republican legislator who served as Assembly speaker, was appointed to the court in 1998 by Gov. Tommy G. Thompson. He won a high-profile April election that was often cast as a referendum of sorts on the policies of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, including his effort to eliminate most collective bargaining for public employees. Prosser, after a recount, defeated challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg by 7,000 votes out of nearly 1.5 million cast.
Because there were so many other people in the room, this incident should be able to be figured out, and it should clearly be investigated, including as a criminal matter. Prosser has demonstrated, shall we say, a problem with his female colleagues before. In March, he reportedly called the chief justice a “total bitch” and “threatened to destroy her.” And not only did he not deny it, he justified it, including by attacking both Abrahamson and Bradley:
The incident, revealed in interviews as well as e-mails between justices, shows fractures on the court run even deeper than what has been revealed in public sniping in recent years. Problems got so bad that justices on both sides described the court as dysfunctional, and Prosser and others suggested bringing in a third party for help, e-mails show.
Prosser acknowledged the incident recently and said he thought it was becoming public now in an attempt to hurt him politically. Prosser faces Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg in the April 5 election.
He said the outburst came after Abrahamson took steps to undermine him politically and to embarrass him and other court conservatives.
“In the context of this, I said, ‘You are a total bitch,’?” Prosser said.
“I probably overreacted, but I think it was entirely warranted.?.?.?.?They (Abrahamson and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley) are masters at deliberately goading people into perhaps incautious statements. This is bullying and abuse of very, very long standing.”
The Feb. 10, 2010, incident occurred as the court privately discussed a request to remove Justice Michael Gableman from a criminal case.
“In a fit of temper, you were screaming at the chief; calling her a ‘bitch,’ threatening her with ‘.?.?.?I will destroy you’; and describing the means of destruction as a war against her ‘and it won’t be a ground war,’?” Bradley wrote in a Feb. 18, 2010, e-mail to Prosser and others.
“In my view, a necessary step to address the dysfunction is to end these abusive temper tantrums. No one brought in from the outside is going to cure this aspect of the dysfunction.”
And that’s just two incidents. Read more about Prosser’s history of tantrums and injudicious behavior here. Clearly, the Wisconsin supreme court has become a partisan madhouse, and an abusive workplace, that is, at minimum, less safe for women justices with Prosser around.
ThinkProgress on whether Prosser can be removed, and if so, how.
But my question is, why wasn’t Prosser arrested?