MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A rural prosecutor will decide whether to charge Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser with attacking a liberal colleague.
Sauk County District Attorney Patricia Barrett said Monday she has accepted a request from Dane County’s chief judge to serve as a special prosecutor in the case. Now she must weigh Justice Ann Walsh Bradley’s accusations that Prosser choked her in June and decide whether to bring criminal charges against a sitting member of Wisconsin’s highest court.
Barrett, a Republican, said she’s still waiting for Dane County Sheriff’s detectives to forward their reports to her and didn’t know when she might make a decision.
“I haven’t even seen the materials. I don’t know how much I’ll have to go through to review,” she said.
Prosser, a 68-year-old former Republican legislator, is widely viewed as part of the Supreme Court’s four-justice conservative majority. Walsh Bradley, 61, is seen as one of the three-justice liberal minority.
The two factions have been feuding openly for years, but the tension between them rose to new levels in June as the justices deliberated over a legal challenge to Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s contentious collective bargaining law. Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, a Democrat, argued that GOP lawmakers violated Wisconsin’s open meetings laws during debate on the measure.
Walsh Bradley claims she told Prosser to get out of her state Capitol office during a meeting on June 13. She has said he then clamped his hands around her neck in a chokehold.
The court issued a 4-3 ruling the next day upholding the law, allowing it to take effect.
Walsh Bradley’s allegations fell within Ozanne’s jurisdiction since she said the incident occurred in the Capitol. But Ozanne asked Chief Judge William Faust to appoint someone else to the case, saying he wanted to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest since Prosser rejected his arguments in the collective bargaining case.
Prosser has denied the allegations. His spokesman, Brian Nemoir, said he hopes Barrett makes a decision soon.
“This has been a long process that needs to come to a quick conclusion,” Nemoir said.
A Supreme Court spokesman said in an email Monday that Walsh Bradley was out of town. She hasn’t spoken publicly about the case except for comments to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper on June 25 recounting the incident and accusing Prosser of creating an abusive workplace.
Barrett is based in Baraboo, about 45 miles northwest of Madison. She gained notoriety when she prosecuted Eric Hainstock, a Weston Schools freshman who shot principal John Klang to death during a struggle in a school hallway in 2006.
The Wisconsin Judicial Commission has launched an internal investigation into Walsh Bradley’s allegations as well. The Wisconsin State Journal newspaper reported in Saturday’s editions that sheriff’s investigators have turned over their materials to the panel.
Walker’s collective bargaining law strips nearly all public workers of most of their union rights.
Opposition to the measure was intense. Tens of thousands of people occupied the state Capitol around the clock for weeks in protest and minority Democrats in the Senate fled to Illinois in a futile attempt to block a vote on the plan. Anger over the law spurred recall attempts against six GOP senators and three Democratic senators.