MADISON, Wisc. (CN) – The Wisconsin Judicial Commission asked the state supreme court to discipline Justice David Prosser for ethics violations, for allegedly putting a fellow justice in a chokehold while arguing with her about Gov. Scott Walker’s so-called Budget Repair Bill.
The commission asked the supreme court to find Prosser guilty of three ethics violations for the June 13 incident with Justice Ann Walsh Bradley.
The physical altercation occurred in Bradley’s chambers in front of six other justices. Only one – Justice Patrick Crooks – was not present.
According to the commission’s complaint, it “has found probable cause to believe that Justice Prosser willfully violated SCR 60.04(1)(d), Wisconsin Code of Judi cial Conduct.”
That provision “states that a judge shall be patient, dignified and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers and others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity,” according to the complaint.
The commission also found probable cause to believe that Prosser willfully violated SCR 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.”
And the commission found probable cause to believe that Prosser willfully violated SCR 60.02, which “states that an independent and honorable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society. A judge should participate in establishing, maintaining and enforcing high standards of conduct and shall personally observe those standards so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary will be preserved.”
The commission also found that Prosser engaged in judicial misconduct pursuant to Wis. Stat. 757.81(4)(a).
Prosser, a conservative Republican who narrowly kept his seat in an April election, vehemently denied the accusation. His supporters claim that Bradley attacked him and he was simply defending himself.
During the commission’s investigation, Bradley disclosed that when the discussion became heated, she asked Prosser to leave her office.
“It was my intent and my hope when I did that that I was de-escalating the situation,” Bradley said. “[Justice Prosser] put his hands around my neck, holding my neck as though he was going to choke me.”
She said that Prosser’s hands were wrapped around her neck “full circle skin-to-skin.”
Prosser maintains his innocence. In a statement obtained by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Prosser said: “The charges filed by the Judicial Commission are partisan, unreasonable, and largely untrue. They will be vigorously contested because I am innocent. There are two essential points to consider:
“(1) The incident at the Supreme Court on June 13, 2011, was significantly different from what the Commission has alleged. There would have been no physical contact between Justice Bradley and me if she had not suddenly and unexpectedly charged at me from a distance of about six feet with her right hand in a fist. By her own admission, Justice Bradley intended to confront me ‘face to face’ ‘in [my] personal space.’ She did not demand that I get out of her office until after contact had occurred. I never intentionally touched Justice Bradley’s neck. I never ‘choked’ her or put her in a ‘chokehold.’ Justice Bradley’s assertions that I did are false.
“(2) The Commission has been patently unfair in its handling of this matter. It has not been interested in discerning the truth. It has been committed to making a political statement. The Judicial Commission is trying to accomplish through this prosecution what some of its members failed to achieve at the ballot box.”
Before the commission investigated, Prosser admitted to a Dane County Sheriff’s Detective that he did touch Bradley.
“Did my hands touch her neck, Yes I admit that. Did I try to touch her neck, no, absolutely not. It was a total reflex,” according to the complaint.
The commission determined that Justice Bradley did not consent to “being touched in any manner by Justice Prosser.”
It determined that before the chokehold incident, “Justice Prosser had demonstrated a tendency towards lack of proper decorum and civility by telling the Chief Justice [Shirley S. Abrahamson], in the presence of other Justices, that ‘you are a total bitch,'” according to the complaint.
The Wisconsin Judicial Commission has nine members: one court of appeals judge, one circuit court judge, and two attorneys, all appointed by the Supreme Court, and five non-lawyer members appointed by the governor with Senate confirmation.
Walker recently appointed five new appointees to the commission, giving his appointees majority control.
The Commission’s Special Prosecutor Franklyn Gimbel asked Richard Brown, the chief appellate court judge, to set up a three-judge panel who will treat the complaint as a lawsuit, hold a trial on the allegations, reach conclusions on the facts of the case and determine whether the allegations are valid.
Discipline could range from public reprimand to suspension to removal from the bench.
Walker’s so-called Budget Repair Bill severely restricted the power of public unions, making it illegal for them to collectively bargain for anything but salary, and more difficult for state workers to unionize, or retain union representation. It set off a statewide and national furor, and led to the recall of Walker and his lieutenant governor, the petitions for which are in the process of certification.