The Wisconsin Judicial Commission filed a formal complaint Friday against Justice David Prosser over his physical altercation with fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley in June.
While no criminal charges came from Prosser allegedly putting his hands around Bradley’s neck during an exchange in her chambers, Milwaukee attorney Frank Gimbel, who is representing the Judicial Commission, said the encounter constituted a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
“This has nothing to do with Justice Prosser being a good person and nothing to do with him being a good judge or his judicial philosophy,” Gimbel said. “It’s just within the commission’s view that physical interaction between two judges crosses the line of appropriate behavior.”
The complaint alleges three violations of the judicial ethics code.
According to the complaint, Prosser violated Supreme Court Rule 60.04(1)(d) which states judges should be “patient, dignified and courteous to litigants, witnesses, jurors and others with whom the judge deals with in an official capacity.”
The second alleged violation is of 60.04(1)(o) which states that a judge “must cooperate with other judges as members of a common judicial system to promote the satisfactory administration of justice.”
The complaint also alleges a violation of 60.02, which requires judges maintain themselves with dignity and independence.
Prosser did not immediately return a call for comment. According to a statement released Friday and attributed to Prosser, the Justice said he is innocent.
“The charges filed by the Judicial Commission are partisan, unreasonable, and largely untrue,” Prosser wrote in the statement. “They will be vigorously contested because I am innocent.”
Bradley had accused Prosser of putting her in a chokehold in front of four other justices during a June discussion about a lawsuit challenging Gov. Scott Walker’s law eliminating most public workers’ union rights.
According to the complaint, Bradley asked Prosser to leave her chambers after which time she said he “put his hands around my neck, holding my neck as if he were going to choke me.”
In July, Dane County Sheriff’s Department officials questioned Prosser, but criminal charges were never filed as a result of the altercation.
The Judicial Commission began investigating the allegations last November.
The complaint also references Prosser’s prior tendencies towards “lack of proper decorum and civility”, specifically when in Feb. 2010 he allegedly told Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, in the presence of the other justices, “You are a total bitch.”
Gimbel said he sent a letter to Wisconsin Court of Appeals Chief Judge Richard Brown on Wednesday, requesting appointment of a three-judge panel to hear the complaint.
“There is no indication of when that might happen,” Gimbel said.
The formal complaint marks the third time in the past five years that the Judicial Commission has pursued ethics cases against Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices.
Justice Annette Ziegler received a public reprimand in 2008 from her colleagues for failing to recuse herself in 11 cases when she served as a Washington County Circuit Court Judge.
In 2010, the justices deadlocked, 3-3, on whether Justice Michael Gableman violated the ethics code for allegedly lying in a televised 2008 campaign advertisement.
Should the three-judge panel recommend discipline against Prosser, the state Supreme Court will have the final say in the matter. The options for the court include censure, public reprimand, suspension or dismissal.
“The Judicial Commission has no position in terms of sanctions,” Gimbel said. “The Supreme Court has the singular authority to impose sanctions.”