In the wake of allegations that Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser placed fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley in a chokehold in her office, women’s rights organizations and elected officials across the state are calling for him to step down until investigations are complete.
Tense Confrontation Over Collective Bargaining Ruling
On June 13, the day before the state’s highest court issued their politicized contentious split decision upholding Governor Scott Walker’s controversial collective bargaining law, members of the court were debating whether to issue an opinion. At that point it was uncertain if the court would get involved since no hearings had been held and no facts had been presented to the court. Prosser and the conservative justices tracked Justice Bradley and Chief Justice Abrahamson down in Bradley’s chamber. According to new reports, Bradley demanded Prosser leave her chamber after he made disparaging remarks about Abrahamson. That was when Prosser is alleged to have put his hands around her throat and placed her in a chokehold. “It was in no way playful,” said one source who was present.
One of Wisconsin's most experienced investigative reporters, Bill Lueders from the Center for Investigative Reporting, broke the story June 24th. In doing so, he contacted the justices for comment. According to the Center, Prosser declined to comment: “I have nothing to say about it,” refusing to confirm or deny any part of the account. It was only the next day, when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel picked up the story did anonymous source put forward the counter story that Bradley had charged Prosser “with fists up,” and his contact with her neck was incidental. (The she “made me do it” defense.) In response, Bradley issued a statement: "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."
Both the Dane County Sheriff’s office and the Judicial Commission are investigating.
Groups Demand Prosser Step Down
Now women’s groups are asking for Prosser to take a leave while the investigation is pending. “As a member of the highest court in Wisconsin, Justice Prosser sits in a position of high trust,” said Lisa Subeck, City of Madison Alderwoman and Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin. “No individual is above the law, especially an elected official sworn to uphold the very laws he is accused of breaking. As a gesture of respect for the law, Justice Prosser should take a leave from his position while these official investigations unfold.”
Prosser has long had a reputation as a hothead. The latest incident follows revelations earlier this year that Prosser called Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson a “bitch” and threatened to “destroy” her. When confronted by reporters, Prosser said that Abrahamson has “provoked him.” Questions about Prosser’s temper also date back to his days as a state legislator. One Wisconsin Now released a video of him screaming on floor of the State Assembly when he served as the state's top Republican aparachick. More recently, he grabbed a mike out of the hands of a local FOX news reporter questioning him about the choking incident.
Yet rather than calling upon Prosser to be disciplined, one of state’s leading newspapers decided to cast aspersions on the whole court. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial blamed Shirley Abrahamson for not having a press conference to air grievance or for not taking everyone on a retreat so the entire court could receive mediation therapy. They also took the opportunity to call for the end to Wisconsin’s long tradition of judicial elections. The Wisconsin State Journal, called the incident an “unacceptable fracas” and also called for an appointed judiciary, as if that would solve the problem of an abusive bully on the court. This spin tracks Greta Van Susteren’s early comments that Abrahamson should step down as Chief Justice for not keeping control of the court.
Blaming the Victim
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Blaming the victim is apparently back in style in Wisconsin. The incident when Prosser called the Chief Justice a “bitch” was disturbing enough, the latest incident is rightly being categorized by the women as unacceptable workplace violence. “Violence against women takes many forms – from domestic violence to sexual assault to workplace violence,” said Dane County Board Supervisor Dianne Hesselbein. “All women should have the right to a workplace free of violence and abuse, and no woman should be disempowered by the abusive words or actions of a colleague.”
As a member of the highest court in Wisconsin, Justice Prosser sits in a position where he will be called upon to decide many issues affecting women in the workplace. His out-of-control behavior, undermines trust in his judgement and in the notion of a fair and impartial judiciary.
CMD's Brendan Fischer contributed to this report.