David T. Prosser Jr., a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, was accused of ethics code violations for allegedly putting his hands around the neck of Justice Ann Walsh Bradley in June prior to the court issuing a ruling on a law limiting union bargaining rights for state workers.
A special prosecutor appointed by the State Judicial Commission filed a request yesterday with the state Supreme Court for sanctions against Prosser, saying the nine-member commission found probable cause to believe he willfully violated the judicial ethics code.
Prosser allegedly violated requirements that a judge be “patient, dignified and courteous” to those involved in the court system; that they cooperate with one another and that they maintain high standards of conduct to ensure the integrity of the judiciary, according to the special prosecutor, Franklyn M. Gimbel, a Milwaukee lawyer.
Gimbel also sent a letter to the chief of the appellate court, Richard Brown, asking that a three-judge panel be appointed to hear the case. Statutes also allow for a jury to hear allegations.
Never Intentionally Touched
Prosser responded to the charges saying he never intentionally touched Bradley’s neck, according to a statement distributed by Supreme Court spokesman Tom Sheehan.
“The charges filed by the Judicial Commission are partisan, unreasonable and largely untrue,” the justice said. “They will be vigorously contested because I am innocent.”
Another special prosecutor last year declined to issue criminal charges against Prosser or Bradley related to the incident after Bradley filed a police report. All but one of the justices was present during the altercation and they gave conflicting statements.
The three-judge panel will conduct a trial on the charges. The proceeding won’t be public. The panel’s findings will be sent to the state Supreme Court for a decision on sanctions. That tribunal could issue a written reprimand, censure Prosser, suspend him without pay or remove him from office. The complaint didn’t request a form of discipline.
The incident occurred in Bradley’s office. Prosser confronted Bradley and Abrahamson about when the court’s decision on the law that stripped most unionized state workers of their bargaining rights would be released, according to yesterday’s filing by Gimbel.
The discussion became heated and Bradley got up from her desk and walked toward Prosser ordering him from her office, according to the filing. She said he put his hands on her neck.
He said he reflexively put his hands on her neck and said it wasn’t intentional.
The court was split 4-3 on the collective bargaining case with Prosser in the majority, which said the legislation was lawfully adopted, and Bradley in the minority. Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote a minority opinion, to which Bradley concurred.
“The Commission has been patently unfair in its handling of this matter,” Prosser said in his statement. “It’s not been interested in discerning the truth. It has been committed to making a political statement.”
In re Matter of Judicial Disciplinary Proceedings Against the Hon. David T. Prosser, 12 AP 566J, Wisconsin Supreme Court.
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