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Wisconsin Top Court Fires Judicial Oversight Panel Chief

May 11, 2012

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court declined to reappoint the head of an oversight panel that charged a court member with violating the state’s judicial code of ethics, according to a letter signed by judges who opposed the move.

The nine-member Wisconsin Judicial Commission headed by attorney John R. Dawson found probable cause that Justice David T. Prosser violated three parts of the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct and recommended the matter for trial before a three- judge panel drawn from Wisconsin’s intermediate-level appellate court. Prosser has denied the allegations.

“We regret to inform you that the Supreme Court, over our objections, has voted not to reappoint you to a second full term on the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, which you currently chair,” Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson said today in a letter co-signed by two other high court judges.

Dawson was unanimously renominated earlier this month. In a May 3 letter to the high court, Racine County Circuit Judge Emily Mueller, chairwoman of the commission nominating committee said that panel valued Dawson’s “steady leadership and his commitment.”

Dawson served on the commission since 2006, according to its website, and was eligible for appointment to a second one- year term as its chairman.

‘No Idea’

“I have no idea what happened,” Dawson said today in a telephone interview. “I am not privy to the thinking of justices on the court. That’s not my province. I’m sure they had sound reasons.”

Prosser is accused of putting his hands on the neck of one of the letter’s co-signers, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, during a in June 2011 dispute over a law curbing the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

The court later voted 4-3 to throw out a challenge to the legislative process that produced the law.

The Judicial Commission said it had probable cause to believe Prosser violated provisions requiring him to be patient, dignified and courteous to those he dealt with in an official capacity, to cooperate with other judges and to maintain high standards of conduct.

Prosser, in his April 30 answer to the finding, denied the allegations and accused the commission of selectively filing complaints with the high court.

‘Political Bias’

“Selectivity can implicate sound discretion,” he said through his legal counsel. “It can also implicate ideological or political bias.”

Prosser also said Bradley charged at him with her right hand raised in a fist, that he instinctively raised his hands to protect himself and “briefly made contact with Justie Bradley’s neck.”

Prosser has asked high court justices Abrahamson, Bradley, N. Patrick Crooks, Michael Gableman and Patience Drake Roggensack to recuse themselves from the proceedings. Only Roggensack has agreed to do so.

The case is In re Matter of Judicial Disciplinary Proceedings Against the Hon. David T. Prosser, 12 AP 566J, Wisconsin Supreme Court.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in Chicago at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at

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