Tag Archives: Ann Walsh Bradley

Justice Prosser’s long career overshadowed by one heated moment

David Prosser filled a lot of roles: prosecutor, legislator, state Supreme Court justice. But he’s likely to be best remembered for getting into a physical altercation with another justice that brought national ridicule to Wisconsin’s highest court.

Prosser, 73, faded into retirement Sunday, two days after Gov. Scott Walker appointed attorney Dan Kelly to replace him. Prosser, typically quiet and reserved in public, didn’t respond to requests from The Associated Press for an interview about his career.

He leaves a legacy of public service marred by the moment he put his hands around Justice Ann Walsh Bradley’s throat during an argument. He told investigators he was defending himself, but the incident bared a long feud between the court’s conservative and liberal justices and brought embarrassment to the court that still remains.

“As I traveled around the country people would ask me about him and the incident,” said Janine Geske, a Marquette University law professor and former state Supreme Court justice whom Prosser replaced on the high court in 1998. “It really was a tragic and horrible incident for the court. He bears responsibility for what happened.”

Prosser graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison law school in 1968. He worked as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice and as a lecturer at the Indiana University-Indianapolis law school during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

He was elected to the state Assembly as a Republican in 1978 after a stint as Outagamie County district attorney. He served nine terms in the body, rising to speaker. A baseball fan, he helped lead the push to provide funding for Miller Park, the Milwaukee Brewers’ stadium. The lifelong bachelor opposed removing criminal penalties for consenting adults who have non-marital sex.

Sen. Tim Carpenter, a Milwaukee Democrat and out gay man who served in the Assembly with Prosser, described him as willing to listen to anyone.

“It was a different era back then,” Carpenter said.

Spencer Black, a former Democratic representative who also served with Prosser, said Prosser grew more partisan as he gained power, becoming more acerbic in his remarks and less accommodating.

“He changed quite a bit,” Black said.

Then-Gov. Tommy Thompson appointed Prosser to the high court in 1998 after Geske resigned. He ran unopposed for a full 10-year term in 2001.

The justices are officially nonpartisan, but Prosser was in the bloc of conservative justices that controls the court. In fact, during his 2011 campaign for retention, he publicly vowed to support Walker’s agenda from the bench.

The court’s conservatives delivered a huge win for Walker last year when they halted Milwaukee prosecutors’ investigation into whether his campaign illegally coordinated with outside groups, declaring nothing improper took place. Those same outside groups had given many millions of dollars to the conservative justices who ruled in their favor, casting a giant shadow of doubt over the blindness of justice in Wisconsin.

Over the years a feud developed between the conservatives and liberal justices Shirley Abrahamson and Bradley.

Emails show that in February 2010 Prosser called Abrahamson a “bitch” and threatened to destroy her as the justices were debating a request to remove conservative Justice Michael Gableman from a case. Prosser said the liberals goaded him into making the offensive remarks, presumably by disagreeing with him.

Prosser faced a bitter re-election in the spring of 2011 against challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg, whose supporters worked to transform the race into a referendum on Walker, who had just signed his signature law restricting public workers’ union rights after weeks of protests. Prosser ultimately defeated Kloppenburg following a statewide recount.

That same year he placed his hands around Bradley’s throat during an argument in chambers over the timing of the release of a divided opinion upholding Walker’s union restrictions. Prosser later said he inadvertently touched her neck in self-defense after she charged him, but said he didn’t squeeze. Bradley confirmed Prosser didn’t choke her and no one was charged. Prosser’s fellow conservatives recused themselves from deciding whether Prosser was guilty of ethics violations, leaving the court short of a quorum to decide the issue.

The incident became fodder for late-night comics — UW-Madison law professor Howard Scheweber declared the court a laughingstock — and to this day chalk writings still mysteriously appear on Capitol square sidewalks advertising free chokes from Prosser.

Carpenter said the incident reflects how the fight over Walker’s public union restrictions changed everyone in the Capitol.

“(The law) just polarized everybody,” Carpenter said. “There wasn’t anybody in the building who wasn’t forced into different camps. I hold that against all of us.”


Republican Party helps pay Justice Prosser’s campaign debt

The Wisconsin Republican Party paid legal bills and costs stemming from a vote recount for retiring Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, a longtime Republican official who promised to support Gov. Scott Walker’s policy agenda if re-elected to the bench. The partisan donation for the judge was disclosed in Prosser’s latest campaign finance report.

The party paid $25,000 on April 7 to Dan Morse, a Republican consultant and fundraiser for Walker, for work he’d done for the Prosser Defense Fund. Prosser still has $46,000 in legal bills related to his 2011 recount to pay, according to his committee’s report.

The in-kind contribution from the state GOP came about three weeks before Prosser announced he would retire at the end of this month — five years before the end of his term. Prosser’s early retirement gives Walker the opportunity to appoint a replacement. Walker is currently considering three finalists for the job.

Prosser was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1998 by former GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson and later won two 10-year terms in statewide elections in 2001 and 2011.

Prosser faced no opposition in the 2001 race, and he was expected to have an easy reelection in 2011 until GOP Walker introduced his controversial plan in early 2011 to severely restrict public employee collective bargaining rights.  The plan sparked massive Capitol protests by hundreds of thousands of state workers. It drew national attention and made an otherwise quiet re-election bid a referendum on Walker’s actions, because Prosser had been a longtime Republican legislator and Assembly Speaker.

The close election that followed spurred a recount and more than $230,000 in legal bills.

In 2012, Prosser changed his campaign fundraising committee to a defense fund in order to pay legal bills after the state Judicial Commission accused him of ethics code violations after he put his hands on the neck of fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley. The case against Prosser did not go forward because some justices who witnessed the event recused themselves from the case.

In addition to the Prosser Defense Fund, a second committee created to pay for Prosser’s recount expenses, the Prosser Victory Recount Fund, has helped whittle Prosser’s outstanding bills to the current $46,000 as of June 30.

Even though the races for the seven-member high court are technically nonpartisan, conservative candidates are frequently backed by GOP contributors and outside electioneering groups, and liberal candidates get support from traditional Democratic campaign contributors and outside groups.

In addition to Prosser, the state Republican Party has also supported some of the Supreme Court’s four other conservative justices. Most recently, the party made about $42,200 in in-kind contributions to help elect Justice Rebecca Bradley last April. In 2013, the state party made about $35,900 in contributions to help reelect Patience Roggensack, who later became the court’s chief justice.

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wins 3rd term on Wisconsin Supreme Court

Justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court will remain the same following the April 7 election, but there likely will be a new chief justice for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley easily defeated Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley, sending her back to the court for a third 10-year term. But voters also approved a constitutional amendment that gives the seven justices the power to decide who will be chief justice, rather than having it go automatically to the most senior member as it has for the past 126 years.

Given that the court is controlled by conservatives, that likely means liberal Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson’s 19-year tenure as head of the state’s highest court could be ending soon.

Abrahamson, 81, did not return messages seeking comment on the vote. She has served on the court longer than anyone in state history, joining in 1976, and is also the longest-serving chief justice.

Bradley, a close ally of Abrahamson’s, said the court has not discussed how it will move forward once the amendment becomes final. That is likely to happen at an April 29 meeting of the state elections board, which must certify the results before they take effect.

Under the new amendment, the justices have to decide every two years who they want to serve as chief justice. There are no specifics about how that is to be done or when the first decision has to be made.

The chief serves as lead administrator for the state court system, with power to assign judges and justices for cases below the Supreme Court level, designate and assign reserve judges and schedule oral arguments before the high court, among other duties.

Supporters of the change say it’s undemocratic to have the position go automatically to the justice with the most experience.

Only six other states use a similar seniority-based system as Wisconsin, while 22 others have a peer selection process.

Voters approved the amendment by about a 6-point margin, based on unofficial results.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state chamber of commerce, spent at least $600,000 on an effort to get the amendment passed. Liberal advocacy group the Greater Wisconsin Committee worked to defeat both the amendment.

Bradley coasted to victory over Daley, winning by about 16 points based on unofficial results.

Bradley and Abrahamson make up the liberal minority on the court that in recent years has been at the center of the some of the biggest political fights in the state, including upholding Gov. Scott Walker’s law effectively ending collective bargaining for public workers.

Daley described himself as a conservative and he actively courted Republican voters, and accepted donations from the GOP party, in his failed attempt at knocking off Bradley. She argued that Daley was politicizing the race; he said Bradley should be removed because she is at the center of a dysfunctional court.

“I think the message was loud and clear to keep partisan politics out of the judiciary,” Bradley told The Associated Press after her victory. “People in this state want a judiciary that’s nonpartisan. Political parties have agendas.”

Daley issued a statement saying the election showed “first-hand the power of incumbency, as liberal special interests band together to protect their candidate.”

Daughter of Republican-backed Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate is fugitive from justice

Online court records show Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate James Daley’s daughter has been a fugitive since 2008.

The state filed a warrant for Maureen Daley’s arrest in June 2008 after she failed to appear on charges of operating while intoxicated. The warrant is still outstanding.

In a statement, Daley said the issue should not impact the campaign and that he hopes people will pray for those who struggle with dependency. He did not say where his daughter is.

“I have seen the unfortunate side of dependency and the heavy burden it places on society, families and individuals as both the presiding judge on the Rock County OWI court and first-hand as a father,” Daley said in a statement. “These challenges are a private matter and have no place within the context of a campaign.”

The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s rules on judicial duty say judges have a responsibility to notify authorities about judges and lawyers who violate rules of professional conduct. They don’t address whether judges have a responsibility to notify authorities of fugitives’ whereabouts if they know them.

Daley is receiving support from the Republican Party of Wisconsin and has appeared at GOP events throughout the state to promote his candidacy.

Judicial elections are supposed to be non-partisan, but partisan politics and large political donations from outside the state have played a key role in Wisconsin Supreme Court races in recent years. The Koch brothers-backed Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce have spent an estimated $8.3 million to elect right-wing justices in Wisconsin, giving conservatives and supporters of Gov. Scott Walker’s agenda a majority on the bench.

In an apparent attempt to turn his daughter’s problems into a political advantage, Daley accused his opponent, incumbent Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, of drawing attention to the outstanding warrant. But he offered no evidence and the Bradley campaign denied the accusation.

“Our campaign has not responded to this story out of respect for what we consider to be a private family matter,” Bradley spokesman Kory Kozloski said in a statement.

The election is Tuesday, April 7.

Endorsement | Vote for Bradley and against changing rules of selecting chief justice

WiG endorses Justice Ann Walsh Bradley for retention and urges voters to reject the referendum that calls for changing the way that the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s chief justice is selected.

Bradley’s experience and principled stands in many controversial cases, including recusing herself from cases in which there’s any hint of conflict of interest, should earn her a third term.

The Republican-dominated Wisconsin Legislature in January passed a constitutional amendment that would change how state Supreme Court justices pick their leader, adopting a new method that would give them the advantage. Voters on April 7 will be asked to decide the proposed constitutional amendment.

This represents the unseemly infusion of yet more politics into the state’s highest court. In 2009, Wisconsinites voted overwhelmingly to re-elect Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson to a 10-year term, knowing that she would remain chief justice. The amendment would negate the result of that election. 

The Wisconsin Constitution states that the justice with the most seniority becomes chief justice. But the court’s conservative majority wants to get rid of Abrahamson, who has ruled several times against Gov. Scott Walker’s administration. The Republican-authored amendment would allow the justices themselves rather than seniority to determine the court’s chief, allowing the conservative majority to oust Abrahamson.

Bradley urges voters to reject the amendment.

“To change the constitution because you don’t like the style of a certain justice would be a terrible mistake,” Bradley said. “The constitution is a sacred document. It defines who we are as a people and what we stand for as a state. To use it as a tool for political payback is a big mistake.”

We agree.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Bradley braces for infusion of right-wing money against her reelection campaign

The Wisconsin Supreme Court currently has a 4–3 conservative tilt, but if right-wing Republican groups succeed in ousting two-term incumbent justice Ann Walsh Bradley from the bench on April 7, the state’s highest court will move farther rightward, with a solid majority of 5–2.

To ensure this happens, major corporate money, including third-party donations from such lobbying groups as Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Koch brothers-backed Wisconsin Club for Growth, is expected to flow into the campaign of Bradley’s opponent. Together the two groups spent an estimated $8.3 million for “issue ads” helping to elect conservative justices Annette Ziegler, Michael Gableman, David Prosser and Patience Roggensack, according to wiconsinwatch.org. That amount dwarfs the $3.2 million spent by those same judges on their own campaigns.

Judicial positions are nominally non-partisan, but any illusion that’s the case evaporated long ago. Bradley’s opponent — Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley — denies he has any ideological bias, but he’s sent out tweets using the hashtag #tcot, which stands for “top conservatives on Twitter.” He admits that the Republican Party helped circulate his nominating papers, and he’s appeared at GOP gatherings throughout the state promoting his conservative agenda and asking for help.

Daley told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he’s attended those events simply to speak with voters who are most likely to share his philosophy. He called Bradley an “activist judge,” a criticism that Republicans in the state frequently aim at judges who’ve issued opinions against Gov. Scott Walker’s policy agenda, including his union-busting Act 10 and his law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls.

In a conversation with WiG, Bradley blasted Daley for co-opting the Republican agenda and for having Republican operatives on his campaign staff. She said that her campaign did not accept help from the Democratic Party to circulate her nominating papers and that her campaign would not accept contributions from political parties or attorneys and litigants with pending cases.

In fact, Bradley said that maintaining judicial independence is the centerpiece of her retention bid. It’s not only unethical for partisanship and campaign donations to influence application of the law, she said, but it also erodes the public’s perception of a fair justice system.

Knowing that conservatives would probably spend massive amounts of money on advertising and TV commercials that misrepresent her record, Bradley thought long and hard about seeking a third term on the bench.

“I know what is coming in the last few days or weeks of the campaign,” she said.

But it’s that knowledge that ultimately determined her decision to run. “I think it’s time to stop this influx of partisanship in the judiciary,” she said. “My vision of a judiciary is different form what we’ve seen in the recent past five years.”

According to Bradley, Wisconsin ranks No. 2 in the nation for special interest advertising in judicial races — behind only Pennsylvania.

“It’s not this way in other states, and it doesn’t have to be this way in Wisconsin,” she said.

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Choking complaint filed against Wisconsin justice

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser violated the court’s ethics code when he allegedly choked a rival justice and should be disciplined, according to a complaint the state Judicial Commission filed with the high court on March 16.

The judicial oversight panel accused Prosser of violating rules that require a judge to be dignified and cooperate with colleagues when he allegedly wrapped his hands around Justice Ann Walsh Bradley’s neck during an argument in her chambers last summer.

The commission must now prove its case. A panel of three appeals court judges will hear the matter and file its conclusions with the state Supreme Court, which could choose from a host of sanctions ranging from reprimand to removal.

It is unlikely Prosser will face any discipline, however. Prosser is part of a four-justice conservative majority on the seven-member court. His three allies – Michael Gableman, Patience Roggensack and Annette Ziegler – have enough votes to block any punishment.

Prosser remained defiant and promised to fight the allegations. He accused the commission of trying to smear him.

“The commission has been patently unfair in its handling of this matter,” he said in a statement. “It has not been interested in discerning the truth. It has been committed to making a political statement.”

Prosser and the three other conservative justices have been feuding openly with the liberal-leaning Walsh Bradley and Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson for years.

Tensions between the factions reached a head last June as the court dealt with a legal challenge to Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s law that took away union powers from most public workers.

Dane County Dist. Atty. Ismael Ozanne accused Republican legislators of violating the state’s open meetings law during the run-up to passing the bill. The challenge kept the law from taking effect.

The case wound its way to the state Supreme Court. The conservative judges were under intense pressure to release a decision that upheld the measure to save GOP lawmakers from passing the law again as part of the state budget and reigniting opposition.

According to sheriff’s reports, the conservatives entered Walsh Bradley’s chambers on June 13 and demanded Abrahamson release a statement saying the court would issue a decision the next day.

Walsh Bradley, 61, told investigators Prosser accused her and Abrahamson of holding up the decision and told Abrahamson he had no confidence in her leadership. She said she got in Prosser’s face and told him to get out. Prosser then grabbed her neck in what she described as a chokehold. Roggensack had to separate them.

Prosser, now 69, countered that Walsh Bradley charged him with a raised fist and he put his hands around her neck to defend himself. He said he never applied any pressure.

Sauk County Dist. Atty. Patricia Barrett, acting as a special prosecutor in the case, announced in August she wouldn’t file criminal charges against either justice. Barrett said the accounts varied too greatly.

The judicial commission, meanwhile, launched an internal investigation.

Franklyn Gimbel, a special prosecutor the commission appointed to the case, wrote in the complaint that probable cause exists to believe that Prosser willfully violated rules that require a judge to be patient, dignified and courteous, cooperate with other judges and adhere to high standards of conduct.

Gimbel noted Prosser’s explanation of the incident, but went on to say Prosser has shown a tendency toward lacking proper decorum and civility by calling Abrahamson “a total (expletive).”

Walsh Bradley released a statement to The Associated Press on Friday saying she is saddened by the incident “but I have a great deal of respect for the process and it will now continue.”

Prosser reiterated in his statement Friday that he never intentionally touched Walsh Bradley’s neck. He said commission members are angry he was re-elected to another 10-year term last year and are determined to see him removed from his post.

“The charges filed by the Judicial Commission are partisan, unreasonable, and largely untrue,” he said. “They will be vigorously contested because I am innocent.”

Gimbel didn’t immediately return messages.

The charges against Prosser mark the third time in the last four years the commission has accused a Supreme Court justice of ethics violations.

In 2008, the commission accused Ziegler of failing to recuse herself or disclosing a potential conflict of interest when she handled cases involving a bank where her husband was a paid director while she was a Washington County judge. The Supreme Court eventually reprimanded her.

That same year, the commission filed a complaint against Gableman, accusing him of running a campaign ad that falsely suggested then-Justice Louis Butler helped free a sex offender. The commission ultimately dropped the complaint after the justices deadlocked 3-3 on whether the ad was protected speech.

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Editorial: Prosser must go

Justice David Prosser is too emotionally troubled to remain on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. His behavior on the job would have resulted in dismissal from any ordinary workplace, and the state’s highest court demands a higher – not lower – standard of conduct.

He must resign.

Prosser should have been disqualified from the bench last fall, when he made a campaign promise to support Gov. Scott Walker’s right-wing agenda if voters retained him. It’s unethical and highly unusual for judges to make campaign pledges to uphold laws if they’re elected, especially laws they’ve never seen.

Prosser made good on his promise when he voted to uphold the governor’s controversial union-busting bill earlier this year.

But of even greater concern is Prosser’s temperamental unsuitability for the court. That became evident last fall when it was widely reported he’d called Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson a “total bitch” and threatened to “destroy her.”

Prosser blamed his behavior on provocation from Abrahamson and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley. The editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was among those who did voters a disservice by accepting this as a reasonable excuse.

Now Prosser is blaming Bradley for accusations that he put her in a chokehold. He does not deny the charge, but says she brought it on herself by approaching him with her fists in the air. He’s indicated that he grabbed her by the throat to protect himself. Really.

What actually occurred is under investigation by law enforcement, which is a sorry scenario for any state’s supreme court to face. But the most important fact is already known: It is never acceptable to grab someone by the throat.

If any doubt lingered that Prosser has what is known euphemistically as an “anger management” problem, it lifted when he was caught on camera June 30 angrily snatching a microphone from the hand of a Fox 6 news reporter. Even knowing he was on camera, Prosser couldn’t control himself.

Prosser is one of several right-wing leaders in the state, including his fellow conservative Justice Michael Gableman, who are rumored to be gay. The rumors stem mostly from the fact that he’s one of those always-suspect “family values” politicos who never married or had a female companion. The word on Prosser from his years in the Legislature is that everyone assumed he was gay but he never discussed it.

Now there are items on the blogosphere equating Prosser’s presumed sexual orientation with a hatred of women. That stereotype is as ridiculous as the myth that all gay men are pedophiles and dress in drag.  A review of crime statistics will show that straight men, not gay men, are responsible for the overwhelming majority of violence against women in our society.

In fact, among the many victims of Prosser’s temper is openly gay state Sen. Tim Carpenter. Prosser once charged at the Milwaukee Democrat on the floor of the Assembly during a heated debate.

The LGBT community is no more responsible for Prosser than the targets of his anger are for his verbal and physical attacks.  And most of us are among the many voters who’d like him to go.

Judge Prosser allegedly grabbed female co-justice by neck

Multiple sources are reporting that Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser allegedly grabbed fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley around the neck in an argument in her chambers last week. At least three knowledgeable sources have confirmed the incident, investigated jointly by Wisconsin Public Radio and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Reports indicate that Prosser’s attack on Bradley occurred before the court’s release of a decision upholding a bill that eliminate most collective bargaining rights for public employees. During an altercation over the decision, Bradley asked Prosser to leave her office, prompting him to grab her by the neck with both hands.

Prosser has declined to address the charges and will neither confirm nor deny their validity.

Prosser’s judicial temperament was questioned during his campaign for retention last year after it was revealed that he had called Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson a bitch and threatened to destroy her over a judicial disagreement. Prosser, whose defeat was promoted by Democrats as a way to stall Walker’s agenda, narrowly won re-election by a margin of only 7,000 votes out of 1.5 million cast.

Prosser, 68, is a former Republican legislator who served as Assembly Speaker and was appointed to the court in 1998 by Gov. Tommy Thompson, despite having no judicial experience. During his retention campaign, he offended many voters by saying he would serve as a political ally of Gov. Scott Walker on the bench.

Justices are not supposed be swayed by their political views when interpreting the law.

Although Prosser considers himself a “family values” judge and was heavily backed by right-wing anti-gay Christian groups, he has never married and is rumored to be gay among political insiders.

Bradley also declined to comment, telling WPR, “I have nothing to say.”

It is unclear what effect the lasted incident might have on Prosser’s future.

Sources told jsonline that the matter was called to the attention of the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, which investigates allegations of misconduct involving judges. The commission was created by the Supreme Court in 1971 to “discipline and correct judges who engage in conduct which has an adverse effect upon the judicial administration of justice and the confidence of the public and the judiciary and its process.”

The Code of Judicial Conduct states that judges are required to “uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary” and “avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety” in all activities. Judges and other court personnel are also required to “be civil in their dealings with one another” and “abstain from any conduct that may be characterized as uncivil, abrasive, abusive, hostile or obstructive.