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Thursday, January 29, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 34.0° F  Overcast
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Wisconsin progressive groups rally, call for a Prosser leave of absence
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Progressive groups, elected officials and protesters led a call for Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser to step down pending the results of an investigation into his workplace behavior at a rally Tuesday afternoon.
Credit:Jessica Opoien

Progressive groups, elected officials and protesters led a call for Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser to step down pending the results of an investigation into his workplace behavior at a rally Tuesday afternoon. Held at noon on the Capitol steps facing State Street, it was organized by Lisa Subeck, City of Madison alder and executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin.

"The Wisconsin state Supreme Court should not be allowed to choke out justice for women," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, who represented the Women's Medical Fund at the rally. "Prosser is a supreme disgrace."

Most of the speakers at the rally advocated a leave of absence for Prosser -- who was accused by fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley of placing his hands in a chokehold around her neck during an altercation in Bradley's office -- for the duration of the investigation, but Gaylor called for his resignation "to ensure the credibility" of the court.

"Justice will be served when public opinion forces Prosser to resign," Gaylor said. She referenced Prosser's past behavior -- including the incident in which he admitted to calling Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson a "total bitch" and saying he would "destroy" her -- and asked how any woman could expect justice from a court that allowed such behavior from its justices.

Melissa Sargent, Dane County Board Supervisor, denounced Prosser's behavior, requesting Prosser take a leave of absence while his actions are investigated.

"Our behavior is a measure of our integrity and our morality," Sargent said.

Samantha Leonard, a third-year law student representing the Madison chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, said the behavior Prosser is accused of is "not just a political act, but it's an act of outright misogyny."

Anthony Prince, a labor lawyer likewise representing the lawyers' group, told the crowd that asking Prosser to step aside is "not a radical proposal," adding that most employers would place an employee accused of similar behavior on administrative leave while the accusations were investigated.

"An employer has a legal obligation to provide a workplace free of hazard," Prince said. "We are the employer of Justice David Prosser."

Subeck agreed: "Every woman is entitled to a safe workplace, free of violence." She told the crowd that one out of every 250 women will be a victim of workplace violence, and also cited a U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics study (PDF) finding that, in 2009, workplace violence accounted for 24 percent of all nonfatal violence against employed people age 16 or older.

There is a reason the rest of the country has its eye on Wisconsin, said Scot Ross, executive director of liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now. Ross said Prosser has brought "dishonor" to the state's highest court because of his violent behavior.

"This is classic workplace bullying, and it's got to stop," Ross said.

One Wisconsin Now has collected more than 10,000 petition signatures calling for Prosser's resignation, Ross said, before leading the protesters in a chant of, "Prosser must go!"

Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, also voiced concern that the allegations against Prosser had tarnished the reputation of the court.

"Our judges must be above reproach in all their actions, private and public," Margulis said, "so that the integrity of the judiciary cannot be questioned."

Margulis added that if Prosser is exonerated, he should be welcomed back to his position -- but if he is found guilty, he should resign.

"We're here today to ask him to do better," Subeck said. "We're here to ask him to do the right thing -- to go now, to step aside, let the investigation take its course, and should the investigation find that these allegations are true, to resign immediately.

Former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk also spoke briefly.

"I used to work for you, and now I stand here with you," she said, adding that Prosser should step down while the investigation continues.

About 130 protesters assembled, holding signs and delivering chants decrying Prosser's alleged actions. A 25-foot tall inflatable Prosser balloon that has recently been placed around the Capitol also made an appearance, assembled by protesters Miles Kristan and Arthur Kohl-Riggs. The "Proszilla" was propped in a seated position in order to avoid falling on the people gathered for the rally.

The rally can be viewed online in a video segment from WisconsinEye.

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