This court, and the partisans, deserve no respect.
JUST WHEN ONE thinks it couldn’t get any worse for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, it does.
In documents filed by Justice Ann Walsh Bradley recusing herself in the case related to Justice David Prosser putting his hands around her throat, she says security for justices was tightened two months before the incident because of concerns over Prosser’s behavior.
Bradley and Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, two of the more liberal-leaning members of the court, apparently were locked in their offices when working nights or weekends, police checks were increased, and then-Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs supplied them with his cell phone number for emergencies. The Walker administration says it can find no record of a heightened security plan. Court marshal Tina Nodolf says she worked it out with Tubbs.
Bradley also claimed that 16 months before the alleged choking incident with Prosser, she and Justice Patrick Crooks reported “abusive temper tantrums” by Prosser to the director of state courts, asking that “something be done.”
BRADLEY ALSO TOOK a shot at fellow Justice Patience Roggensack, who is running for re-election to a 10-year term in the spring balloting. Roggensack has downplayed problems on the court.
“It strains credulity that a justice on our own court would be perpetuating the myth that our issues of workplace safety and work environment have somehow healed themselves,” Bradley wrote.
Let’s recognize two possible factors:
• Roggensack is seeking re-election, and people pick sides in elections — including justices.
• If Roggensack wins Bradley remains in the minority on the court. If Roggensack loses Bradley’s liberal-leaning faction could gain a 4-3 working advantage.
So there’s reason to wonder if Bradley’s concerns are entirely about the security and welfare of the court and its members.
EVEN SO THE Prosser mess is an outrageous blemish on the court, an embarrassment to Wisconsin and ample reason for citizens to lose confidence in the justice system.
Even worse, it’s a problem apparently without a solution.
Remember, Bradley’s comments came in documents recusing herself from sitting in disciplinary judgment on the Prosser case. That makes sense, since she’s the alleged victim.
But Prosser has made a mockery of justice by demanding, essentially, that all those who could judge his behavior step down from the case. Only the Supremes can judge one of their own and move a disciplinary case to the next step, a public hearing. Since nearly all of them were present when the incident occurred, Prosser settled on the strategy that all should recuse themselves because they were potential witnesses.
Thus the court lacks a quorum and Prosser may have succeeded in killing any way to move the case against him forward, on a technicality.
SERIOUSLY, IS THAT what justice has become in Wisconsin? Legal trickery from those at the very pinnacle of the justice ladder?
This won’t do. Even if nothing else changes — and Prosser avoids what the people deserve, a public hearing on the merits — it could not be more obvious that a new system of handling cases involving Supreme Court justices needs to be devised.
Look, one would have to be blind not to see the court is now just another political body, with Republican conservatives and Democrat liberals vying for its control just the same as with legislative seats and the governor’s office. At the partisan extremes, all pretense of preferring judicial objectivity has been dismissed.
There’s no quick and easy fix. Change to take the court out of the political storm would require amending the state constitution, which is a difficult and lengthy process. Still, that’s what should happen, and every day of delay causes more harm to public confidence in Wisconsin justice.
But no one in authority is even talking about such change. Why? Because Republicans who control the legislature and the governorship now also control the court. Why would they want to change that? Democrats, meanwhile, hope to control the court and, eventually, the legislature and the governor’s office. They can’t get there by passing good-government amendments.
And the people? Don’t be naive. The Madison partisans don’t care what you think, except for a few hours on election day.