We may never know exactly what happened between Wisconsin Supreme Court justices David Prosser and Ann Walsh Bradley on that infamous day in June in Bradley’s office.
The episode took place at a June 13 meeting when six of the seven justices met to discuss when to release a controversial decision holding the legislature did not violate the Open Meetings Act in approving Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill. Prosser says Bradley approached him with her fist raised and he put up his hands to fend her off, accidentally touching her neck. Bradley says Prosser put his hands on her neck in a chokehold.
A special prosecutor who investigated the incident declined on August 25 to file criminal charges against either of them, saying witness accounts (mostly from other justices) “varied.”
Now that the case is over, the investigative files can be obtained under freedom of information laws. But if they confirm the special prosecutor’s description of witness accounts as “varied,” as is likely, we may never know the truth.
It wasn’t until 11 days after this happened that a one-sided account (telling only Bradley’s side) first appeared on the Web site of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and on the air at Wisconsin Public Radio. Their story was based on “at least three knowledgeable sources.” Which leads one to wonder why the reporters don’t seem to know for sure how many sources they had? The account was later “updated” to include Prosser’s description of what happened.
But the initial imbalanced account and the left-wing nature of both media outlets led conservatives to suspect—quite justifiably—it was a leak by or on behalf of Bradley, who is one of three liberals on the court. Prosser is one of four conservatives.
Whoever leaked the story didn’t do Bradley any favors, though, as media accounts began including statements Bradley is “significantly larger” than Prosser, a comparison no woman wants to hear even if it’s true.
Human nature being what it is, this episode is probably not the first time a punch was almost thrown by or at a judge. But the argument really ought to stop.
The seeds of the Prosser-Bradley dispute were sown in the November 2010 election when Walker, a Republican, was elected governor and Republicans took over the state Senate while retaining the House. Walker’s budget curtailing collective bargaining rights was then passed. That led to angry mob rule in Madison, with unionistas overrunning the capital in February and March.
Then came the hotly contested April elections for the state’s supreme court, in which Prosser defeated Madison liberal JoAnne Kloppenburg, who was backed by Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, another liberal on the court. Kloppenburg demanded a recount, which confirmed the final results and left Prosser with a solid win.
Then came the August recall elections aimed at six Republican state senators. Despite the investment of many millions of dollars and calls for Armageddon against the GOP, four of the six senators held their seats—the loss of two seats was expected. The election was viewed as a win for the “silent majority” in the state disgusted by the tactics of demonstrators in Madison but unwilling to engage in counter-demonstrations.
The Prosser-Bradley incident was just more of the same. He was pilloried and his reputation maligned even when there was no evidence, and he was ridiculed in a 25-foot inflatable effigy erected in Madison. Calls for his resignation were incessant.
Democrats and their union supporters have spent millions and millions of dollars proving what everyone else has known all along—elections have consequences. That goes double for the one in November 2010.
Democrats have now lost three sets of elections in a row, plus the Prosser-Bradley go-’round. The Republicans still rule. The only way for Democrats to control what happens in the legislature, the governor’s office, and the courts is for the party to win elections itself.
And that won’t happen until the party stops dealing in emotional language, epithets, and outrageous antics that just irritate voters and repulse those who don’t live in Madison.
Maureen Martin, J.D. ([email protected]) is senior fellow for legal affairs for The Heartland Institute.