With few checks and balances left in Wisconsin, many elected officials have chosen to fall in line with Governor Scott Walker’s attempts to undermine worker rights, local democracy and the rule of law.
But Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney has stood his ground, upholding both the Constitution and the laws of the state—despite sometimes crude and often irresponsible attacks from those who would make Wisconsin over as Walker’s personal fiefdom.
When Walker and his authoritarian appointees tried to use the police to shut down demonstrations at the Capitol earlier this year, Mahoney pointedly refused—arguing that he and his deputies could maintain public safety while protecting the rights of Wisconsinites to assemble and petition for the redress of grievances.
Mahoney made it clear that Dane County Sheriff’s deputies would not serve as a “palace guard” for Walker and his cronies. Rather, the sheriff and his deputies have steadily protected and served all citizens and officials by defending civil liberties, investigating wrongdoing and enforcing the law as it is written—not as it is dictated from on high.
Without fear or favor, Mahoney has stepped up as a steady defender of the rule of law and an independent public servant in an era when partisanship and ideology have often trumped proper procedure and common sense.
For this reason, it is precisely right that Sheriff Mahoney and his department have taken charge of the investigation into charges from multiple quarters that Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, a close ally of Walker, attacked a fellow justice during deliberations on the GOP-run Legislature’s move to gut the state’s open meetings law and rubber-stamp the governor’s agenda.
State Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs, another able and honorable lawman, asked Mahoney and his deputies to take charge of the investigation into allegations that Prosser attempted to choke Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley.
Tubbs said the decision to turn this high-profile case over to the Dane County Sheriff’s Office came after he consulted with members of the court about the June 13 incident.
Complementing Mahoney’s investigation will be an independent inquiry by the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, which on Monday issued a statement confirming it had authorized an inquiry into allegations that Prosser—who previously admitted to calling Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson a “total bitch” and threatening to “destroy” her—has now physically assaulted another woman justice.
“The investigation will be conducted without prejudgment in a fair and thorough manner” and in accordance with state statute and the administrative code, read a statement from the commission.
The same will be true of the investigation overseen by Sheriff Mahoney.
It is difficult to overstate the challenges associated with an inquiry into whether a supreme court justice should face criminal charges.
Already, Prosser’s defenders have attempted to peddle a bizarre claim that the choking incident was provoked by Bradley—just as Prosser tried earlier to suggest that Abrahamson provoked him to shout obscenities and threaten to destroy the court’s senior jurist.
Mahoney and his deputies will have their work cut out for them.
But those who would restore the rule of law to Wisconsin—and send a signal to governors across the country that they cannot grab power as Walker has—can take a measure of assurance from the sheriff's refusal to lead a palace guard. Sheriff Mahoney and his deputies will enforce the law, giving no special breaks to the powerful and politically connected.