Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley said Thursday her decision to recuse herself from an ethics investigation into a fellow justice’s conduct has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with workplace safety.
Her remarks came in response to questions raised by the campaign adviser of Justice Pat Roggensack, who is running for re-election to the court. Bradley released a revealing memorandum decision Wednesday detailing her ongoing concerns about Justice David Prosser. Roggensack’s adviser, Brandon Scholz, said he didn’t think it was coincidental that Bradley’s filing came out days before Tuesday’s primary election, in which Roggensack will face two other candidates.
Scholz noted the incident that prompted the ethics investigation – Justice David Prosser’s alleged attempt to choke Bradley – occurred in June 2011.
“Now it’s almost mid-February 2013,” he said on Wednesday. “So a year and a half has gone by and all of a sudden Justice Bradley has chosen to write this.”
Bradley said she chose to submit the filing when she did in response to Roggensack’s decision to describe talk of dysfunction on the court as “gossip at its worst.” Roggensack made that widely reported remark at a candidates’ forum last week in Milwaukee.
“Others may be involved in a political campaign,” Bradley said. “I’m engaged in a campaign for our workplace safety. I responded to Justice Roggensack’s recent claims that any talk of dysfunction and incivility on our court was ‘just a bunch of gossip at its worst’. That’s not accurate.”
Roggensack could not be immediately reached for comment.
Michael Maistelman, a Milwaukee-area lawyer, said few voters pay close attention to the internal affairs of the state Supreme Court, however, and those who do have probably already made up their minds about the election.
“It’s the people that are political junkies – they are going to be the ones focused on this,” he said. “I doubt the general public is taking much out of the story, if they do read it.”
Turnout for the election is expected to be small. The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board predicted earlier this week that fewer than 10 percent of registered voters in the state will go to the polls next week.
David Canon, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said he thinks Bradley’s recusal filing would have had greater influence had it been released before the general election instead of the primary.
“The timing was probably not ideal from the challengers’ perspective,” he said. “It would have been better if it would have come out later.”
The state Judicial Commission alleged in March 2012 that Prosser had violated judicial conduct codes in his attempt to choke Bradley, which is reported to have occurred during a heated argument in Bradley’s chambers in front of three other justices.
In recusing herself from the ongoing ethics investigation against Prosser, Bradley joined three other justices who have taken the same step: Roggensack, Michael Gableman and Annette Ziegler. For the investigation to proceed, at least four of the judges on the seven-member court would have to agree to send it on to the State Court of Appeals, which would then appoint a three-judge panel to consider the facts of the case and recommend what disciplinary measures should be taken.
The Supreme Court would then have to decide if it wants to act on that recommendation.
Speaking on Thursday, Bradley said, “This is and remains for me an issue of workplace safety. The continued denial of present-day concerns for workplace safety and work environment merely enables the behavior and prevents meaningful solutions.”