Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser is asking that fellow Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Shirley Abrahamson refrain from participating in a disciplinary case against him for putting his hands on Bradley’s neck during an altercation in June.
In petitions released Thursday, Prosser argues that state law prohibits judges from overseeing cases in which they are witnesses, participants or have an interest in the outcome.
Six of the seven justices were in Bradley’s chambers during the June 13 altercation in which Prosser acknowledged putting his hands on Bradley’s neck as a “reflex” during a heated argument.
In a statement, Bradley signaled that she is likely to step down from the case.
“I have watched with great concern the erosion of public trust and confidence that results when judges decline to step down from cases in which they have an interest,” Bradley said.
In an interview, Prosser said he likely will file additional petitions for recusal that, if successful, could kill the case since only the Supreme Court can mete out discipline to judges in Wisconsin.
Abrahamson, the chief justice, responded by calling for an independent body to make the final decision when a justice refuses to withdraw from a case. Currently it’s up to each justice to decide — a system she called “unfortunate — some might even say absurd.”
Prosser alleges in the petitions that both Bradley and Abrahamson are biased against him.
His relationship with Abrahamson “is strained, to say the very least,” the petition states. He notes that Abrahamson told a Dane County Sheriff’s detective investigating the incident that Prosser was prone to “outbursts” and “temper tantrums.” Prosser has acknowledged calling Abrahamson “a total bitch” in a separate incident.
Prosser also charges Bradley leaked “skewed representations” of the incident to the press, initiated the criminal investigation against him and was responsible for the complaint filed by the Wisconsin Judicial Commission. The five-page petition offers no information to back up those allegations.
Police reports about the June altercation confirm Bradley contacted commission Executive Director James Alexander “informally.” The Dane County Sheriff’s Office said it launched its investigation at the request of Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs.
In a statement, Bradley said the motion “is rife with inaccurate statements and unfounded attacks.”
“The anger and accusations contained in his (Prosser’s) latest filing and his past attacks on the integrity of the Judicial Commission cause me great concern,” she said.
Prosser’s motion states, “It is evident that Justice Bradley is disqualified from participation in this matter and must withdraw ... Justice Bradley cannot turn around and sit in judgment in her own case, and no rational person would believe that she could.”
The Supreme Court has been asked by the Judicial Commission to find Prosser guilty of three ethics violations for the June 13 incident. The physical altercation occurred in Bradley’s chambers during an argument over the timing of the release of a 4-3 Supreme Court opinion that upheld passage of the state’s controversial collective bargaining law.
The complaint alleges Prosser “willfully” violated the Supreme Court rule that requires a judge be dignified and courteous to people “with whom the judge deals in an official capacity,” the rule requiring judges to “promote the satisfactory administration of justice” by cooperating with each other and the requirement that judges personally observe “high standards of conduct.”
Prosser has called the ethics charges “partisan, unreasonable and largely untrue.” He has sought to paint Bradley as the aggressor in the incident.
In his 10-page recusal petition against Abrahamson, Prosser charges that “the current situation is the archetype for recusal.”
“The volatile relationship between Chief Justice Abrahmson and Justice Prosser, including the mudslinging and name calling ... only supports the conclusion that the Chief Justice cannot remain impartial.”