Judge Prosser and the case of the gendered epithet
If you pay any attention to the news it's likely that by now you've read all about Justice David Prosser's outburst toward Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson in which he called her the b-word and threatened to "destroy" her.
It's pretty sensational stuff, and certainly the timing of the release of the information comes at a politically inopportune time for Prosser, who's facing JoAnne Kloppenburg in the April 5 election.
Prosser is already struggling with the taint of association with Gov. Scott Walker, whose own approval ratings have plummeted over the course of the last couple of months and his union-busting budget measures.
This newest revelation, that when "goaded" (Prosser's words, not mine), the Justice resorted to using not only a curse word, but a gender-specific epithet against the Chief Justice, brings up some important questions.
The Supreme Court is supposed to be a place relatively free of partisan bias and bickering, composed of professional legal minds, acting as a crucial check on the powers of the Legislative and Executive branches. That role becomes more important than ever when those two branches are dominated by just one party (Democrat or Republican, etc.), since it would otherwise be possible for political ideologues like Scott Walker to get any piece of legislation rubber stamped and jammed through without challenge.
Our state's Supreme Court has become muddied, however, in the last few years as less-than scrupulous individuals have won seats based on mountains of corporate and political special interest cash. Justice Michael Gableman outright lied about the record of his opponent, then-Justice Louis Butler, during the campaign and was even reprimanded by the court for doing so. Justice Annette Ziegler came to the bench with a laundry list of conflicts-of-interest (PDF) while presiding over past cases as a Circuit Court Judge.
The acrimony stirred up by the election of those two justices appears to have seriously upset not just the balance of the court itself, but the very decorum under which it had normally operated.
The Justices were discussing whether or not to remove Gableman from a case due to potential a conflict-of-interest when Prosser's outburst occurred. And though Prosser admits that he "probably overreacted" by calling Abrahamson the name, he goes on to say that he thought "it was entirely warranted." And why, pray tell, would it ever be warranted for a Justice of the Supreme Court to verbally abuse another Justice in such a way? Because, Prosser argued, Abrahamson (and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley) "are masters at deliberately goading people into perhaps incautious statements. This is bullying and abuse of very, very long standing."
I apologize if this is nave of me, but I had been under the impression that Supreme Court Justices were not actually grade school children fighting in the schoolyard.
Maybe Abrahamson was pushing his buttons -- the Gableman case does appear to have been fairly contentious -- but so what? It's never appropriate to resort to name calling and threats, especially as an elected member of the state's high court.
This smacks of refusing to take responsibility for one's actions, and doesn't exactly display the "even temperament" touted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel when it gave Prosser its very flimsy endorsement back in February.
Prosser may indeed be a 'good writer" (another reason MJS gave for its endorsement of him), but between this incident, his campaign's partisan boasts of "protecting the conservative judicial majority and acting as a common sense complement to both the new (Walker) administration and (Republican-controlled) Legislature," and Prosser's sympathy with the Tea Party movement -- I think now is the time to see him move along to less influential pastures.
Kloppenburg, as I've noted already, has a long career as a prosecutor and litigator, as well as Assistant Attorney General, for Wisconsin -- essentially a law enforcement official for the state -- and appears ready and willing to help bring a more unbiased, law-based balance to the court.
Walker was right about supportive emails, hypocritical about out-of-state support
So Isthmus finally had its request granted and the Walker administration was forced to release copies of the emails it received in the weeks following the announced budget repair bill gutting collective bargaining rights from public employees.
And it turns out that Walker's assertion that "the majority are telling us to stay firm, stay strong, to stand with the taxpayers" wasn't entirely off-base. In an analysis of the emails by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism that studied a random sample of 1,910 of those notes, 62% supported Walker's move.
Somewhat hilariously, however, a full third of those supportive emails came from outside Wisconsin. On the other hand, 89% of the emails voicing opposition to the bill came from state residents.
Why is that hilarious? Because Walker has been incredibly keen to paint the protests as being funded and populated by out-of-state muckrakers and union thugs. Those of us who've been on the ground, day in and day out, know better than that -- but it hasn't stopped Walker from relentlessly dropping the accusation into speeches, private phone calls, and press conferences. Too, Walker was for out-of-state contributions before he was against them, accepting millions of dollars in campaign donations from several outside groups and corporations.
Of course, such blatant hypocrisy and lying isn't nearly as funny when it means serious problems for your friends and neighbors who remain at the mercy of the whims of the man in charge. A man who appears to have no scruples, no ability or desire to take off his ideological blinders.