MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Judicial Commission unanimously decided in January to file an ethics complaint against Supreme Court Justice David Prosser but split 3-3 a month later on whether to reconsider the decision, according to records released Wednesday.
In March, the commission filed the complaint alleging Prosser violated the ethics code for judges by putting his hands on Justice Ann Walsh Bradley’s neck during an argument last June. Prosser contends he did not violate ethics rules and that his hands touched Bradley’s neck in a defensive reflex when she confronted him face-to-face.
Much of the Judicial Commission’s work is done in secret. But after the complaint was filed, Prosser waived much of the confidentiality surrounding the proceedings and sought records from the commission. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports it asked for the same documents under Wisconsin’s open records law, and the commission in response posted them on its website Wednesday.
Meeting minutes show the commission voted 6-0 in January to file the complaint against Prosser. Prosser’s attorney, Steve Meyer, later sent the commission a letter noting that justices who witnessed the altercation between Prosser and Bradley gave conflicting accounts.
In a February meeting the commission debated the letter but split 3-3 on whether to reconsider the decision to file the complaint. The commission filed its complaint with the Supreme Court a month later, but the complaint has stalled as Prosser has asked his fellow justices to recuse themselves from the matter because they witnessed the altercation.
The Journal Sentinel reports the documents also provide Prosser’s fullest account yet of another incident the commission investigated.
Much of Prosser’s formal appearance before the commission centered on a February 2010 incident when Prosser told Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson during a closed meeting of the court he would “destroy her” and called her a derogatory name.
Prosser told the commission he believes the code does not apply to justices when they are in closed conferences.
“If you (on the commission) are going to assume the role of kind of oversight and review and criticism of things that are said confidentially in closed conference, whether it’s about cases or about other court business, you are assuming an enormous power and you’re completely unraveling the freedom of speech,” Prosser testified. “It will have a chilling effect on discussion. It will be contrary to our rules.”
Prosser said his full statement was that if Abrahamson tried to destroy him, he would destroy her. That would consist of telling reporters the truth about how Abrahamson “abuses the staff, how she abuses other justices, how she abuses judges,” Prosser told the commission. He said he in no way meant he would physically harm Abrahamson.
Prosser alleged that Abrahamson and Bradley at the time were trying to find an opponent to run against him. He said that was unusual and unfair because he supported their past campaigns.
“I’m a little annoyed that the people I have helped so consistently turned against me and stabbed me in the back,” he said.
Prosser said calling Abrahamson a derogatory name was inappropriate, but that Bradley overreacted to it and that caused a more heated discussion about political issues surrounding the court.
A message left afterhours with a Wisconsin Supreme Court spokesman was not immediately returned Wednesday evening.
Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com