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View from around the state: Justices must repair court’s reputation

From the Oshkosh Northwestern:

The shameful incident involving a physical altercation between two justices of the Wisconsin State Supreme Court is closed. But there is a long way to go before the damage to the court’s reputation can be repaired.

Recently, special prosecutor Patricia Barrett correctly decided there is no basis to file criminal charges against either justice — Ann Walsh Bradley or David Prosser — who were involved with a physical altercation in Bradley’s office in mid-June. Bradley had said Prosser put her in a “chokehold” during an argument over a case. Others have said Bradley came at Prosser with fists raised and he put up his hands to block her or push her back.

The incident occurred June 13, a day before the deeply divided court issued a 4-3 ruling upholding Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s legislation curtailing collective bargaining for public employees.

The incident further heightened tensions among justices that had been festering well before the collective bargaining case came before the court. Legal observers had expressed concern about the damage the disharmony had on the credibility and integrity of the high court.

Appellate court judge Neal Nettesheim told the Wisconsin State Journal the incident shows “the dysfunction within the Supreme Court” that has other judges in the state concerned. The problems on the court go far deeper than this single episode.”

It is troubling that apparently neither Bradley nor Prosser is willing to work to resolve the conflict within the court if their initial reactions to the decision are an indication.

In a statement issued after Barrett’s decision both justices assigned responsibility for the incident to the other.

Bradley said the matter “is and remains an issue of work place safety.”

“I sought law enforcement’s assistance to try to have the entire court address informally this workplace safety issue that has progressed over the years. But the efforts . were rebuffed.”

Prosser was no better, saying, “Justice Ann Walsh Bradley made the decision to sensationalize an incident that occurred at the Supreme Court. I am gratified that the prosecutor found these scurrilous charges were without merit.”

Their words convey the magnitude of court’s unhealthy division.

Imagine, if you will, a different scenario that would begin the rehabilitation process where Bradley and Prosser issued a joint apology to the court and the state. “We sincerely apologize for the dishonor this incident has brought to the Supreme Court. We each take responsibility for our roles and vow to work together to repair the damage that has been done to the reputation of the court. Our action showed a lack of dignity and respect that is essential for the fair and impartial administration of justice in Wisconsin.”

Nettesheim called on all of the justices “to take a long, deep, hard, critical look” at themselves and “to try to repair the damage” and restore the court’s reputation.

The state is waiting and watching.

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