Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, who mentored Governor Scott Walker when both men served as Republican legislators in the 1990s, has positioned himself as the high court’s primary defender of Walker’s extreme anti-labor and anti–local democracy agenda.
Now, it appears that the justice, whose unstable behavior and violent language has been frequently noted in media reports, is going to even more extreme lengths to protect Walker from legal accountability.
Justice Prosser, who retained his seat on the court only after the recount of results from an April statewide election that saw charges of political abuse and fraud aimed at the justice’s campaign and its political allies, now stands accused of physically attacking a justice who disagreed with his push to make the Supreme Court an amen corner for the governor.
Earlier this month, when Justice Prosser was leading an effort to get the court to clear the way for implementation of Walker’s proposal to strip state, county and municipal employees of collective bargaining rights, he had to wrangle support for an unprecedented reinterpretation of the state’s open meetings law the said rules requiring official transparency and accessibility do not apply to the state legislature. Only by gutting the open meetings law could the court’s conservative majority rule that the legislature’s passage of Walker’s plan—which did not follow open meetings requirements—was legitimate.
The court did just that, issuing a 4-3 ruling on June 14, which gave Walker everything he sought. Justice Prosser’s extended defense of the missteps and misdeeds of the governor’s legislative allies was condemned by Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who decried the appearance of “a partisan slant” in the former Republican legislator’s reasoning and suggested that justice Prosser was reaching “unsupported conclusions.”
Chief Justice Abrahamson, the senior jurist on the court, complained that Prosser and the other members of the four-member majority, were “hastily reaching judgment” and rendering a determination that was “disingenuous, based on disinformation,” “lacking a reasoned, transparent analysis” and characterized by “numerous errors of law and fact.”
Justice Anne Walsh Bradley sided with Chief Justice Abrahamson.
Shortly before the court acted, Justice Prosser reportedly went to the office of Justice Bradley.
Justice Bradley, a veteran jurist broadly seen as the court’s most congenial member, had raised questions about Justice Prosser’s aggressive and verbally abusive behavior in the past. And she was at odds with Justice Prosser’s attempt to have the court rubberstamp the governor’s plan—as the Republican-controlled chambers of the legislature had previously done.
Justice Prosser’s alleged assault on Justice Bradley was witnessed by several other justices. As Justice Prosser grew more agitated during his meeting with his fellow jurist, Justice Bradley reportedly asked him to leave her office. At that point, sources say, Justice Prosser lunged at Justice Bradley and grabbed her neck with both hands.
Capitol Police were reportedly contacted following the incident. Justice Prosser, after initially refusing to comment, claimed that a review of the “facts surrounding (the alleged attack)” will offer him some measure of exoneration. But this sounds an awfully lot like Prosser’s claim following a previous incident that he began screaming obscenities and threatening Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson because—Justice Prosser complained—the senior jurist in some unexplained manner had “provoked” him.
Justice Prosser seems to have a penchant for becoming "provoked" into verbally and physically violent behavior—especially toward female colleagues.
The state’s largest newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, reported in March: “As the deeply divided state Supreme Court wrestled over whether to force one member off criminal cases last year, Justice David Prosser exploded at Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson behind closed doors, calling her a ‘bitch’ and threatening to ‘destroy’ her.”
Justice Prosser acknowledged to the newspaper the basic description of the incident but corrected one detail, saying: “In the context of this, I said, ‘You are a total bitch.’ ”
At the time of the previous incident, Justice Bradley wrote Justice Prosser, urging him to “end these abusive temper tantrums.”
Justice Bradley, who noted Justice Prosser’s explosive outbursts had become more frequent, also urged other justices to stop making excuses for Justice Prosser’s threatening words and deeds.
“Regardless of our disagreements, there is no justification for this abusive behavior,” she wrote. “Blaming his abusive behavior on others merely enables it.”
Justice Prosser was not held to account after he verbally abused Chief Justice Abrahamson.
Now, the question is whether he will be held to account following reports that he has assaulted another female justice.
As the details of incidents of this kind continue to come to light, Justice Prosser may choose to admit that he is no longer fit to serve. Failing that, the justice can be removed by the legislature, via an impeachment procedure, or he can be recalled by the voters of the Wisconsin.