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Choking Democracy

By The Reverend Published: June 28, 2011

Wisconsin State Supreme Court Judge David Prosser has a bit of a temper.

If you recall, in April, Prosser won re-election to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a nail biter election battle against little-known Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg. Kloppenburg, a progressive, was able to take advantage of voter dissatisfaction with Governor Scott Walker's war against public employee unions, making up a nearly 40% gap in polling in the few short weeks leading up to the April 5th election. In the end, Prosser just barely survived winning another term.

Now, David Prosser is being investigated for choking a fellow justice. Yeah.....crazy stuff...but true.

The necessary background needed to put in proper perspective the recent choking incident.....

As the deeply divided state Supreme Court wrestled over whether to force one member off criminal cases last year, Justice David Prosser exploded at Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson behind closed doors, calling her a "bitch" and threatening to "destroy" her.

The incident, revealed in interviews as well as e-mails between justices, shows fractures on the court run even deeper than what has been revealed in public sniping in recent years. Problems got so bad that justices on both sides described the court as dysfunctional, and Prosser and others suggested bringing in a third party for help, e-mails show.

Prosser admitted the February 10th outburst...but justified it.....

"I probably overreacted, but I think it was entirely warranted. . . . They (Abrahamson and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley) are masters at deliberately goading people into perhaps incautious statements. This is bullying and abuse of very, very long standing."

Excuse me wile I snicker at the "she made me do it because she's an abusive bully"..part.

The "you are a bitch"....incident.....

.....occurred as the court privately discussed a request to remove Justice Michael Gableman from a criminal case.

"In a fit of temper, you were screaming at the chief; calling her a 'bitch,' threatening her with '. . . I will destroy you'; and describing the means of destruction as a war against her 'and it won't be a ground war,' " Bradley wrote in a Feb. 18, 2010, e-mail to Prosser and others.

"In my view, a necessary step to address the dysfunction is to end these abusive temper tantrums. No one brought in from the outside is going to cure this aspect of the dysfunction."

David Prosser thought the release of the e-mail by Justice Bradley was intended to damage his upcoming re-election bid.....

Said Prosser: "There is not the slightest doubt that Ann wrote that e-mail to hurt me in this campaign - and here it is surfacing three weeks before the campaign."

Bradley denied that. "I never intended that this would be public," she said. "I just wanted it to stop."

"You can say a lot of good things about David Prosser - and I do, and he is a good man - but you cannot accurately say he has a steady, even temperament," she said.

That's the background necessary to understand what happened yesterday.

Before we get to the steel cage match details let's visualize the participants, shall we?

Here's Justice David Prosser....

Here's Justice Ann Walsh Bradley....

Not exactly WorldWide Wrestling material but still....

Yesterday, the Dane County Sheriff's Office opened an investigation into a June 13th incident involving an alleged altercation at the offices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The Wisconsin Judicial Commission has also announced an investigation into this latest incident.

Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley late Saturday accused fellow Justice David Prosser of putting her in a chokehold during a dispute in her office earlier this month.

"The facts are that I was demanding that he get out of my office and he put his hands around my neck in anger in a chokehold," Bradley told the Journal Sentinel.

The color commentary....

A source who spoke to several justices present during the incident told the Journal Sentinel that the confrontation occurred after 5:30 p.m. June 13, the day before the high court's release of a decision upholding a bill to curtail the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

Six of the court's seven justices - Justice N. Patrick Crooks was not present - had gathered in Bradley's chambers. Some were informally discussing the decision.

The conversation grew heated, and Bradley asked Prosser to leave. Bradley was bothered by disparaging remarks Prosser had made about Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, a source said.

Bradley felt Prosser "was attacking the chief justice," the source said.

Before leaving, Prosser "put his hands around her neck in what (Bradley) described as a chokehold," the source said.

"He did not exert any pressure, but his hands were around her neck," the source said.

The source said the act "was in no way playful."

Another source portrayed Ann Walsh Bradley as purposely placing her neck between Prosser's hands. Yeah....really.

Two quick observations. First, I don't think judges should ever be elected by popular vote. Incidents of political rancor are inevitable, I think, if judges must become part of the political process.

Secondly, the fact that this "choking" incident occurred during heated discussions over Governor Scott Walker's union busting legislation suggests that the divisiveness caused over GOP governors in several states abolishing collective bargaining rights for public employees....is a serious problem that's not going away anytime soon.

If state Supreme Court Justices can't even discuss the issue without going all Hulk Hogan on each other.....what does that portend for the rest of us as we move forward?

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