Wis. Gov: Supreme Court needs to resolve discord

June 27, 2011 - 12:30 PM
Wisconsin Supreme Court

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices David T. Prosser, Jr. and Ann Walsh Bradley consider oral arguments during a hearing regarding the state's budget bill at the Wisconsin State Capitol, Monday, June 6, 2011. According to a report by Wisconsin Public Radio and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, Prosser allegedly grabbed Bradley by the neck with both hands during an argument in Walsh's chambers prior to the court's decision to uphold the bill. (AP Photo/John Hart, Pool)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker took the state Supreme Court justices to task Monday, saying their infighting has to end for the sake of public confidence in the court. His comments came after a liberal member of the court accused a conservative justice of putting her in a chokehold — a charge he has denied.

Speaking on WTMJ radio, Walker said that regardless of a person's political beliefs, "there's got to be confidence that the people on the court can rationally discuss and debate" issues.

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Justice David Prosser tried to choke her during an argument in her office on June 13, the day before the court handed down a decision upholding a new law eliminating most public employees' collective bargaining rights. Walker had pushed the polarizing proposal, saying state and local officials needed more flexibility to deal with the state's deficit and coming budget cuts.

Prosser has denied the accusations. Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubb said Monday he planned to address the matter later in the day.

Walker's proposal drew tens of thousands of protesters to the Capitol earlier this year and made Wisconsin the focus of a national fight over union rights. It also resulted in a tough re-election campaign for Prosser, who had been expected to walk away with the race. The law's opponents threw their support behind little-known challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg in the hope that electing a liberal justice would move the court to the left and result in the law being overturned.

Initial results from the April 5 election showed Kloppenburg leading by about 200 votes, and she declared herself the winner the next day. Then a county clerk who once worked for Prosser announced she had failed to report 14,000 votes. A nearly month-long recount ended with Prosser defeating Kloppenburg by about 7,000 votes.

Walker said the choking allegations brought to light "a much larger problem that at least some on the Supreme Court have that goes far beyond this particular ruling."

The court has become bitterly partisan. Prosser, a former Republican legislator, is generally seen as part of the court's four-justice conservative majority. Bradley is part of a three-justice liberal minority, along with Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Justice Patrick Crooks.

The two factions have been squabbling for months. Prosser especially has had problems with Abrahamson and Bradley. Emails emerged in March that revealed Prosser used a vulgarity in a meeting with Abrahamson last year and vowed to "destroy" the chief justice. Bradley sent all the justices an email saying Prosser's behavior was unacceptable. She said she considered making a report to law enforcement but decided against it.