Correction: The following post about the June 13 Wisconsin Supreme Court altercation originally contained two errors. The post incorrectly stated that a story about the altercation was leaked to Bill Lueders, a reporter for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. Actually, a Wisconsin Public Radio reporter received the first tip about the altercation, and the two news organizations agreed to collaborate on a joint report, which was published early on June 25. In addition, the post incorrectly stated that the Center's report included an allegation that Justice David Prosser applied a "choke hold" to the neck of Justice Ann Walsh Bradley. Actually, the original report from the Center and WPR did not contain a reference to a "choke hold." That term surfaced later on June 25 in information Bradley provided to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and was attributed to the Journal Sentinel in an updated version of the report from the Center and WPR. This post has been edited to reflect this correction.
What would you do if someone suddenly bolted out of their chair and ran toward you with a hand -- possibly a fist -- raised in the air?
Buried in the 70 pages of sheriff's department interviews with the seven State Supreme Court justices and various staff into the June 13 kerfuffle at the court is this common sense answer.
It comes from a surprising source: the law clerk to Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, the liberal ally of Justice Ann Walsh Bradley -- both adversaries of conservative Justice David Prosser.
Out of the blue the chief justice ("Don't call her Shirley") asked her law clerk, Peter Rank, this question: "Hypothetically, what you would do if someone got in your space?"
Peter said he told the Chief Justice he might put an arm block up or something if someone tried to get close to his personal space. From page 7 of the sheriff department's investigatory report (PDF).
That is exactly what Justice Prosser -- backed by three fellow justices -- says he did. Furthermore, all six who witnessed the event concede that Bradley came at Prosser, whether or not, as he claims:
Bradley's face was one foot from his, her right fist, closed, not open, was six inches away and her expression, "pure fury." (Page 39)
Unwinding the liberal spin
The altercation at the State Supreme Court may be destined to fester for years like Whittaker Chambers v. Alger Hiss. History's verdict awaits the subsidence of partisan passions.
The Left, failing to indict Justice David Prosser on criminal charges, is now enshrining Justice Ann Walsh Bradley as the victim of an unsafe workplace. Unsafe for whom? The latest is Barbara Lawton, the Far Left's dream candidate for governor, who calls Justice Prosser a "bully" in Tuesday's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
I have reviewed the 70-page sheriff's investigatory report (PDF) yet again and have scanned the small trove of supportive material (PDF). I think I retain some vestiges of the objectivity I prized as a newspaper reporter. I draw these conclusions:
It is indisputable that Justice Prosser "loses his cool repeatedly," as Justice Patrick Crooks put it on Page 58 of the sheriff's investigatory report. But always verbally, aside from an occasional table pounding; no physical violence. An admirer would call that passion.
There was no "choke hold" in any sense of the term. Justice Bradley is either delusional or dishonest to keep repeating that claim "as if it was a mantra," sheriff's investigators recorded. (Page 19) A mantra? Keep repeating it often enough and you might believe it?
The preponderance of evidence is that Justice Bradley suddenly and without warning rushed at Justice Prosser a scant nine or 10 feet away and, within seconds, got into his personal space with one hand raised in the air. (See the schematic (PDF) included in the sheriff's supplementary materials.) That hand may have been a fist, as Prosser and several of the justices have stated or, as Bradley insists, was merely pointing toward the exit she wished him to take. Even if so, could the difference have been reliably ascertained in the split second?
Finally, it is telling that the Sauk County district attorney who reviewed the sheriff's investigatory report, Patricia Barrett, focused equally on Justice Bradley in her brief statement -- even though the public had turned against Prosser.
I have determined that no criminal charges will be filed against either Justice Bradley or Justice Prosser for the incident on June 13, 2011.
There was no 'choke hold'
Jumping off the 70 pages of the investigatory report are the crying jags that Bradley engaged in two separate police interviews, 15 and 30 days after the incident. Once, she had to leave the interview with the two detectives to compose herself. This could be consistent with true victimhood. But it could also be ascribed to an overwrought state of mind due to either physical or mental impairment -- thus explaining her "mantra"-like use of the term -- because there was no "choke hold."
If the term has any meaning, it does not apply to whatever happened to Ann Walsh Bradley. She was not choked nor was she held. Yet, she used the term repeatedly -- immediately after the incident, at an all-court conference two days later with Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs, in her statements to the two Dane County sheriff's detectives, and in a report published on June 25 by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Justice Bradley said it was at this point Justice Prosser grabbed her by the neck in what she described as a "choke hold." (Page 17 in an interview conducted 15 days after the event.)
Justice Bradley did not recall Justice Prosser squeezing or applying pressure around her neck. (Page 17)
Nor did the chief justice. Although Abrahamson saw Prosser "put both hands up," it did not appear as though Justice Prosser exerted any pressure. (Page 23)
"I know he didn't choke her," Justice Ziegler said. (Page 13)
O.K., so no choke. How about a hold? Another female witness, Justice Patience Roggensack said:
... based on her view, Justice Prosser never "choked" Justice Bradley and his hands were never around her neck. Justice Roggensack said Justice Prosser's hands did make physical contact with Justice Bradley, and his thumbs were in contact with the front of her neck, but his hands and fingers were pointing straight up and were never around her neck. (Page 53)
Bradley got in Prosser's face
There is no question that Bradley quickly sprang at Prosser, who was only nine to 10 feet away, and got up close and personal.
Justice Roggensack said Justice Bradley came at Justice Prosser "very fast". (Page 54)
Prosser, for his part, said Bradley "exploded out of that room." (Page 39)
This is Tina Nodolf, marshal of the Wisconin Supreme Court (Page 10):
This verbal attack caused Justice Bradley to stand up and walk swiftly towards Justice Prosser. Tina said that Justice Bradley told her she stood up and "got in his personal space." (Page 10)
Justice Annette Ziegler told investigators that Bradley got up from her desk...
and "walk[ed] quickly" towards Justice Prosser. Justice Ziegler said Justice Bradley walked past her and walked in front of Justice Prosser and "got in David's face." (Page 13)
Bradley herself admitted to the two detectives that Roggensack said, "Ann, this isn't like you, you charged at him." (Page 17)
Even Bradley admits that she "got face to face" (Page 17) with Prosser "to make sure he knew that she meant it" and called him 'Buddy'." Justice Bradley said, "Buddy puts me in control and them in the diminutive." (Page 34)
Did Justice Bradley wave a fist?
Bradley told investigators she was merely pointing for Prosser to leave her outer office (he had never stepped inside her office). That is contradicted by several of the other justices.
Roggensack says Bradley's "fist was in the air." (Page 52) and that "Bradley was "trying to get at him with her fists." (Page 53) Sheriff's investigators record that:
Justice Gableman said Justice Bradley's fist was going towards and away from Justice Prosser's face in almost a punching motion. (Page 63) ... Justice Bradley's fist was in Justice Prosser's face and came within about an inch every time. (Page 64)
Justice Gableman said he immediately responded to Justice Bradley by saying "he didn't choke you, he pushed you to get your fist out of his face." (Page 65)
Justice Roggensack told Justice Bradley that she did not stop him from anything, and added, "I stopped you from hitting him." (Page 54)
Prosser was not screaming
The Left has tried to leave the impression that Justice Prosser was engaging in a tirade, a mental meltdown. There is no evidence of that in the 70-page investigatory report.
Justice Ziegler recalls Prosser using "a firm tone but ... not ... screaming or yelling." (Page 13) Nor does anyone allege he used profanity.
Justice Gabelman said Prosser, "hunched forward and hands together as if he was praying, said in a 'meek and intently sincere' voice ..." (Page 63).
Rachel Graham, Justice Bradley's law clerk, described Prosser's voice as "a very measured tone and was deliberately enunciating each of his words as he was talking." (Page 49)
He was not even addressing Justice Bradley, for that matter. His statement, the "verbal attack," referenced by Nodolf, consists of: "Chief, I've lost confidence in your leadership." (Bradley, page 16)
Those are strong words but not fighting words as any court would understand them.
An unsafe workplace?
Of the justices, only Justices Bradley and Abrahamson claimed the Supreme Court is an unsafe workplace:
Justice Ziegler said she is not afraid to come to work and she has no safety concerns from other co-workers as a result of the environment she works in. (Page 14)
Justice Roggensack said she does not fear for her physical safety and feels that she does work in a safe work environment. (Page 54)
Same for Ingrid Nelson. "Ingrid stated she does not have any safety concerns at work." (Page 32) She is Chief Justice Abrahamson's judicial assistant (or "J.A.").
Justice Bradley was the aggressor
Most of the justices saw Bradley as the aggressor. Ziegler heard Roggensack say, "Ann stop it, this is not like you." (Page 13)
It is a statement confirmed by court marshal Nodolf who got it, ironically, from Bradley:
Justice Roggensack told Justice Bradley to "calm down, your (sic) not acting like yourself. You didn't have to rush at Dave." (Page 10)
It is a statement Bradley's own law clerk, Rachel Graham confirmed almost word-for-word:
Rachel said Justice Roggensack was telling Justice Bradley that she had to hold her back and that she had provoked him. (Page 50)
If so, it would not be the first time, as Roggensack's e-mail to Bradley of Feb. 21, 2010, shows. (Reproduced above.)
The court's human relations specialist, Margaret Brady, was taking notes during the court's follow-up meeting on June 15 after the incident. She quotes Roggensack:
"You, Ann, went berserk." (Page 28)
Workplace violence, perhaps. But by whom?