Wisconsin Justices Lash Out in Court Ruling

     MADISON, Wis. (CN) — Firing shots across the pages of an otherwise unremarkable ruling, Wisconsin’s highest-ranking judge dressed down her predecessor for “attacks” on their new colleague.
     The infighting took shape Wednesday after the conclusion of a Wisconsin Supreme Court opinion, split 3-2 along party lines, that terminates a woman’s parental rights.
     After the 30-page lead opinion, the court’s two liberals, Justices Shirley Abrahamson and Ann Walsh Bradley, joined a dissent that draws parallels to the predicament of the U.S. Supreme Court after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
     Wisconsin’s justices are elected, but the death last year of Justice N. Patrick Crooks opened a window for Republican Gov. Scott Walker to appoint Justice Rebecca Bradley.
     The case at hand is one of 16 cases that the court had decided tentatively at the time of Crooks’ death, and the third that Rebecca Bradley joined.
     Abrahamson calls it the first time that Rebecca Bradley has offered a “public explanation of whether she will participate in cases argued but not decided before her appointment to the court.”
     “Her explanation for her decision to avoid reargument are useful and important information for the bench, bar, and public,” Abrahamson wrote.
     The ruling comes weeks after Rebecca Bradley won election to her seat for a 10-year term.
     Chief Justice Patience Roggensack complained in her own concurring opinion that Abrahamson’s dissent marks the latest example of the judge “lending the prestige of her judicial office to further private interests.”
     “Justice Abrahamson omitted important facts known to her and in so doing, through the facts that she did relate, she drew into question the propriety of Justice Rebecca Bradley’s decisions about whether to participate in pending cases,” Roggensack wrote. “The repetitive nature of her omissions of known facts heightens my concern.”
     Roggensack, along with Rebecca Bradley, who also wrote separately, say there is no basis to Abrahamson’s contention that there is an established procedure for deciding cases heard before a judge joined the court in the same manner as Rebecca Bradley.
     Crooks had watched oral argument remotely in several cases before he died, and Rebecca Bradley watched the same recorded footage before participating in three decision conferences, Roggensack wrote.
     Though Abrahamson mentioned the case New Richmond News v. City of New Richmond as one where there was a tentative vote before Crooks’ death, Roggensack disagreed.
     Abrahamson “knew that the court did not reach a tentative decision in New Richmond News at the decision conference on September 18 because she refused to vote, held the case and voted for the first time after Justice Crooks’ death,” the opinion states.
     For her part, Abrahamson implied that Roggensack and Rebecca Bradley are the ones making the squabble personal.
     “The question of a new justice’s participation in cases upon his or her appointment should, we hope, be approached by the court and the justices in a descriptive, analytical, and historical manner, free from divisiveness or offensive posturing, personal attacks, and false accusations,” Abrahamson wrote in her dissent. “Engaging in or responding to such personal attacks and accusations neither sheds light on the inquiry before us nor promotes public trust and confidence in the court.”
     Roggensack shot down Abrahamson’s suggestion that they look to the nation’s highest court for guidance.
     “Justice Abrahamson is well aware that this court was presented with her version of United States Supreme Court procedures that she asserts are employed when a justice leaves the United States Supreme Court mid-term,” Roggensack wrote. “She also knows that we did not adopt those procedures for use by Wisconsin Supreme Court justices.”
     Saying Abrahamson’s criticisms have gotten out of hand, Roggensack noted that they already prompted a constitutional challenge to an opinion by the attorney for a nonprevailing party.
     Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote separately that this further demonstrates Abrahamson’s true intent.
     “Justice Abrahamson’s separate writings were not about documenting for future courts how to properly handle pending cases when a justice dies mid-term and a new justice joins the court,” she wrote. “Including the non-prevailing lawyer’s adversarial allegation from Matalonis — an entirely separate case — in the dissent in this… case is entirely inappropriate and serves only one purpose: to give others material — within a published Wisconsin Supreme Court decision, no less — to attack and criticize me.”
     Justice Ann Walsh Bradley co-wrote the dissent in the most recent opinion, but most criticism was directed at Abrahamson alone.
     This is not the first time Abrahamson and Roggensack have had words. Abrahamson sued when the Supreme Court replaced her with Roggensack in the chief judge’s chair, a federal case she has since abandoned.
     Since then, oral arguments have been punctuated with snide remarks and interruptions from several justices.
     Patricia Gotrik, who answered Roggensack’s office phone, said the judges are in conference all day.
     Ingrid Nelson, who answered at Abrahamson’s office, took a reporter’s contact information but noted that the judge usually responds that her opinions speak for themselves.

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