No one has stood more courageously and more consistently for the restoration of the rule of law and the dignity of the Wisconsin Supreme Court over the past two years than Justice Ann Walsh Bradley.
For this, she has been vilified.
Now it is time for the vilification to end, along with the lies and the political games that would have Wisconsinites believe that Bradley is anything less than who she is: an able and responsible independent jurist who serves in the best Wisconsin tradition.
A native of Richland Center who worked as a high school teacher before entering the University of Wisconsin Law School, Bradley was a respected attorney in private practice before she became a circuit judge in Marathon County in 1985.
Elected to the state Supreme Court in 1995 with bipartisan support, she became such a well-regarded justice that Democratic and Republican sheriffs and district attorneys hailed her service, and judges from across the state and across the ideological spectrum encouraged her re-election. Indeed, the support for Bradley was so overwhelming that no challenger filed to oppose her and she retained her post without opposition.
Then she got on the wrong side of David Prosser, the intensely partisan former Republican leader of the state Assembly who was appointed to the high court by his old friend Tommy Thompson as a consolation prize after Prosser was defeated in a congressional bid.
Since his appointment to the bench, Prosser has sought to remake the traditionally nonpartisan and independent high court as a tool of conservative judicial activism. And after the 2010 election of Gov. Scott Walker, who Prosser had mentored when they served together in the Legislature, the justice began working to make the court a steady rubber stamp for the new governor’s policies. When Walker-allied legislators passed the governor’s trademark anti-labor legislation in a session that clearly violated the Wisconsin open meetings law — which had been placed on the books by the Legislature — the law was challenged. Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi halted implementation of the measure.
Never mind that Sumi was, like Prosser, a Thompson appointee. Prosser, as he made clear at partisan events and on right-wing talk radio shows, was determined to abandon the rule of law and renew Walker’s fortunes. To this end, he pressed the high court to quickly and decisively overturn Sumi’s decision and clear the way for implementation of Walker’s assault on bargaining rights.
Prosser reportedly became more and more belligerent as the judicial process dragged on. The politician-turned-jurist, who admitted that he had previously shouted obscenities and threatened to “destroy” Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, confronted Bradley in her chambers.
Prosser acknowledges that he had his hands on Bradley’s neck. He claimed he was not trying to choke her, but an investigation of the incident by the Wisconsin Judicial Commission determined that Prosser had “willfully” violated the Supreme Court rule requiring judges to be dignified and courteous to people “with whom the judge deals in an official capacity,” the court rule requiring judges to “promote the satisfactory administration of justice” by cooperating with each other, and the court requirement that judges personally observe “high standards of conduct.”
The Judicial Commission, which was chaired by the attorney for a top Walker aide, recommended that the court find Prosser guilty of three ethics violations for the June 13, 2011, incident.
Prosser moved to block action on the Judicial Commission’s recommendations. Two conservative justices who had faced ethics charges of their own, Justice Annette Ziegler (who had been publicly reprimanded by her colleagues) and Justice Michael Gableman (who avoided discipline on campaign violations after justices deadlocked 3-3 on whether to sanction him), backed the assault on accountability. But Prosser still could have been held to account if Justice Pat Roggensack joined Abrahamson, Bradley and Justice Patrick Crooks in respecting the need to address the commission’s recommendations.
Unfortunately for the court, Roggensack, an ambitious partisan who has aligned with Prosser, refused to do so.
Last week Bradley, recognizing that Prosser would not be held to account, issued a statement detailing the safety concerns of justices who the Judicial Commission indicated had been targeted by Prosser for abuse.
The statement came as Roggensack was seeking re-election and claiming, remarkably, that all was well on the court. Bradley’s statement unsettled Roggensack’s backers, who immediately went on the attack.
Roggensack backers claimed Bradley’s sincere expressions of concern about the direction of the court, and its inability to address even basic questions of ethics, discipline and personal safety, were the stuff of fantasy.
Finally, marshal Tina Nodolf, who has responsibility for security issues relating to the court, issued a statement confirming Bradley’s account of how several justices had raised safety concerns prior to the June 2011 incident.
The attempts to smear Bradley by Roggensack’s allies — which are the latest manifestation of the crude crusade to vilify Bradley — were as irresponsible as they were shameful. And they have now been proven to be entirely false.
Roggensack needs to put an end to this charade. She needs to apologize to Bradley. She needs to assure the voters of Wisconsin that her re-election campaign and its allies will not engage in more crude attacks on Bradley. And, above all, Roggensack needs to commit herself to a new course of recognizing and addressing the ugly circumstance she has played a part in creating for the court.
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