Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser is facing a disciplinary hearing based on allegations that he placed his hands around the neck of Justice Ann Walsh Bradley. Prosser filed two motions Thursday asking for Bradley and Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson to recuse themselves from presiding over the disciplinary hearing. And he is completely justified in doing so.
In addition to the allegation of choking Bradley, Prosser has also raised eyebrows by reportedly calling the Chief Justice a “bitch.” His motions claim that Bradley should recuse herself because she was a witness to the incident and has a bias against him and that Abrahamson should recuse herself because she has exhibited hostility toward him in the past.
The court has several options for proceeding. Abrahamson and Bradley can recuse themselves, all justices but Justice Patrick Crooks, the only justice not present at the exchange under inquiry, can recuse themselves, or the court can find another body to preside over the hearings.
While it may be hard to give credence to a man who calls a coworker a bitch, it is fair for Prosser to request recusals. Letting Bradley and Abrahamson preside would jeopardize the fairness of the hearings. But that would leave only conservative justices remaining, equally threatening impartiality.
Furthermore, all of the justices involved or present when the event under inquiry happened should rightly recuse themselves. But then only Crooks would remain, undeniably preventing a fair hearing.
The only feasible path is to create a body independent of the Supreme Court to direct the proceedings. Although no statute or appellate decision mandates this to be the course of action, it has been the accepted solution in the past. Prosser certainly has garnered a contentious reputation that might make one skeptical, but on this issue he is completely justified in his request.