‘Weird’ battle in Supreme Court holds no one accountableWisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser has asked several of his colleagues to step aside from the infamous “chokehold” case filed against him by the Judicial Commission.
By: By Mike Nichols, Superior Telegram
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser has asked several of his colleagues to step aside from the infamous “chokehold” case filed against him by the Judicial Commission.
Some legal experts claim that’s not necessary, even though almost the entire court saw the incident and will have to be capable of amazing contortions in order to act simultaneously as witnesses and jurists. I guess the theory goes: They’re used to listening to themselves talk.
I agree they should all hash it out together — but only if the deliberations take place in a padded room with lots of security personnel, triage doctors and ambulance drivers present, and if Prosser gets to take part as well.
About all everyone agrees upon right now is the incident happened when Prosser and three other justices went to Bradley’s chambers, where he told Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson he’d “lost confidence” in her “ability to lead.”
Beyond that, nobody even agrees on what sort of voice Prosser was using. Justice Michael Gableman told investigators Prosser was using a “meek and intently sincere” voice; a law clerk for Justice Ann Walsh Bradley described Prosser’s voice during the encounter as “petulant.” Bradley herself either approached or rushed Prosser, depending whose version you believe. After that, Prosser somehow ended up with his hands on Bradley’s neck.
Here is what deliberations would sound like if Bradley and other justices involved refuse to step aside and end up repeating what, according to more than 100 pages of investigative reports, they’ve already told detectives, or said in the presence of a court human resources officer or each other after the June 2011 incident:
Abrahamson: “I was shocked at what I saw.” Justice Prosser has a history of “outbursts” and “temper tantrums” and you “never know what’s going to set him off.”
Justice Annette Kingsland Ziegler: Abrahamson is like a “mother” to Justice Bradley.
Bradley to Prosser: “You put your hands on my neck in a chokehold.”
Prosser to whoever will listen: “She charged me.” She had a look of “pure fury on her face.”
“Did my hands touch her neck? Yes, I admit that. Did I try to touch her neck? No, absolutely not. It was a total reflex.”
“It’s simply a reflexive reaction to suddenly being assaulted.”
Bradley: “I didn’t touch him at all.”
Abrahamson: Justice Bradley “never, never, never touched him, and I’m certain of that.”
Justice Patience Roggensack to Bradley: “You, Ann, went berserk.”
Roggensack physically intervened after the alleged chokehold, and Bradley would later claim Roggensack’s intervention prevented Prosser from doing anything more than he did. Roggensack, in response, told Bradley a few days after the incident that what she’d actually prevented was “you from hitting him.” Bradley was “trying to get at him with her fists,” said Roggensack, according to the investigative reports, and would have “smacked him in the face.”
“They were both out of line and they were both very angry,” said Roggensack.
If deliberations over Judicial Commission charges against Prosser are anything like comments made to investigators or during a meeting among justices two days after the incident, it’s easy to imagine how they will end:
Bradley: Prosser needs counseling.
Roggensack to Bradley: “If you are requesting that Justice Prosser get counseling, you both need help.”
Bradley: “Stop enabling him.”
Gableman: “He didn’t choke you. He pushed you to get your fist out of his face.”
Ziegler: “I know he didn’t choke her” based on how she reacted afterward. “The whole thing was shocking to me.” Working at the Supreme Court is “a pressure cooker.” The work environment is “weird.”
It’s not nearly as weird as it will be if justices don’t step aside from deliberating on a case that involves just about all of them. That, it is true, would spare Prosser further scrutiny he may deserve — but no more than Bradley.
Mike Nichols is a syndicated columnist who spent 18 years writing about Wisconsin for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He is now a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. This column represents only his personal opinion. Contact him at MRNichols@wi.rr.com.