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Prosser vs. Kloppenburg mashup
Justice David Prosser Jr. is being challenged in the April 5 general election by assistant State Attorney General Joanne Kloppenburg. Prosser was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court by Gov. Tommy Thompson in 1998, and elected in 2001. State Journal

Justice David Prosser’s very public meltdown has made the jurist an embarrassment, even for his supporters.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which backed Scott Walker for governor and has backed Prosser for re-election to the high court, now admits that “Prosser has done just about everything he could think of this spring to sabotage his own campaign for re-election to the state Supreme Court.”

The newspaper observes: “From calling the chief justice a ‘bitch’ during the run-up to the campaign, to issuing a news release indicating he would complement the new Republican governor, to trying to appeal in a ham-handed way to Milwaukee County voters by citing his rulings, Prosser — and not JoAnne Kloppenburg, the assistant state attorney general who is his opponent — looks like the rookie here.”

The Journal Sentinel goes even further, writing that Prosser “apparently could use some anger-management classes. His outburst at Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson — threatening ‘to destroy’ her — will be unforgivable for some voters. He deserved the public flogging he received for it; other justices claimed it wasn’t his first tirade. He should have shown more leadership in turning the court away from its embarrassing squabbling.”

The paper acknowledges that there is evidence that Prosser has “veered toward the appearance of partisanship. When the court deadlocked 3-3 — with the three conservatives facing down the three liberals — over whether to sanction conservative Justice Michael Gableman for a clearly deceitful campaign ad, Prosser didn’t find cause to do so. He should have known better.”

All of this is true, as is another Journal Sentinel statement: “Clearly, the 57-year-old Kloppenburg is qualified. She seems brilliant.”

While the Journal Sentinel struggles with the embarrassment of having associated itself with Prosser, rather than his brilliant challenger, Prosser’s campaign co-chair, former Gov. Patrick Lucey, is refusing to make any more excuses for the errant justice.

“I can no longer in good conscience lend my name and support to Justice Prosser’s candidacy,” explained Lucey in a statement issued last week. “Too much has come to light that Justice Prosser has lost that most crucial of characteristics for a Supreme Court justice — as for any judge — evenhanded impartiality. Along with that failing has come a disturbing distemper and lack of civility that does not bode well for the high court in the face of demands that are sure to be placed on it in these times of great political and legal volatility.”

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“At the very same time that my confidence in Justice Prosser has waned, I admire and have continued to be impressed with Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg. She has adhered throughout the campaign to evenhandedness and nonpartisanship and has exhibited both promising judicial temperament and good grace even in the heat of a fierce campaign,” wrote Lucey in a statement that concluded: “For these reasons I have today resigned as honorary co-chairman of Justice Prosser’s campaign, and I endorse Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg for the Wisconsin Supreme Court on April 5.”

Lucey’s honest assessment sums up the problem with Prosser. The justice is no longer a credible contender for the high court.

Luckily, an abler and far more credible alternative is available to the voters of Wisconsin. As the Journal Sentinel says: “Clearly, the 57-year-old Kloppenburg is qualified. She seems brilliant.”

And she deserves to be elected Tuesday.