A Supreme Court justice recused herself Wednesday from an ethics case involving another judge who placed his hands around her neck during a June 2011 incident.
Along with her recusal report, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley released a notice saying she had requested increased law enforcement security weeks before the altercation with Justice David Prosser. Bradley said in the letter she and Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson still feel threatened in the office because of Prosser’s behavior.
With Bradley recused from the case, the only two justices who have not recused themselves from the case are Abrahamson and Justice N. Patrick Crooks.
Common Cause in Wisconsin Executive Director Jay Heck said this instance is another demonstration of how divided the Supreme Court has become, both ideologically and personally.
“This is largely a huge distraction from what the court should be doing, which is considering cases impartially in a way that gives people confidence they are acting in the interest of citizens,” Heck said.
Since only the Supreme Court itself is able to discipline its justices, most members’ decisions to recuse themselves from the altercation case have prevented any sort of solution from being reached, he said. Heck said it is time to move away from inside conflict and reestablish a public perception that the court can still work together.
Heck speculated this incident may affect public perception of Justice Patience Roggensack, the Supreme Court judge currently running for re-election. He said this may suggest she is part of the divide on the court.
Nate Schwantes, campaign manager for Marquette University Law School professor Ed Fallone, one of Roggensack’s challengers for Supreme Court, said a statement Wednesday Roggensack has been wrong to dismiss allegations that the court’s enviroment is dominated by “fear, intimidation and violence.”
Schwantes said this reflects Roggensack’s lack of empathy for concerned justices, claiming she ignored Bradley’s feelings of threat in the court.
“In repeated public appearances, Justice Roggensack has been dismissive of these allegations saying that ‘everything is fine.'” Schwantes said in his statement. “Roggensack should recant her statements and apologize to Justice Bradley and the people of Wisconsin for her insensitivity and inaction in these circumstances.”
Roggensack’s campaign manager Brandon Scholz said they doubted Bradley’s opinion release was coincidental, considering the primary election is next Tuesday. He said there have been no incidents in the past year-and-a-half, and Roggensack continues to believe all members of the court can continue to work together.
Scholz said the more important aspect for voters to consider is the degree of experience each candidate has. He said Roggensack’s extensive background, serving seven years on the appellate court and 10 on the State Supreme Court make her the best candidate. Scholz said Fallone has never been a judge and chided his campaign manager for using a political issue like the 2011 incident to advance his campaign.
Rick Esenberg, Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty founder, president and general counsel, said it was interesting Bradley used the occasion of her recusal to rebut Roggensack’s comments about cooperation in the courts. He added it was also curious it took so many months for Bradley to formally recuse herself from the case.
Esenberg said Roggensack’s comments about court cooperation are not relevant to Bradley’s recusal, and added the recusal creates the appearance Bradley is attempting to interject herself in the upcoming election.
While the court is thought to be divided 4-3 on many issues, about half the cases seen are unanimous, Esenberg said. When there is division, it tends to be broken down to 5-2 instead, he added.
He said these numbers may show the court is not as divided as many make it out to be, and the issues of Bradley’s recusal and Roggensack’s campaign are issues better kept separate.