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EMILY'S POST: Thoughtful commentary on politics, current events and culture in Madison
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Emily's Post: A response to Ann Althouse on the Wisconsin Supreme Court dust-up
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Dear Ann Althouse,

I didn't link to your blog when I took you to task for the way you were writing about the Justice Prosser/Bradley controversy -- and since I know this to be a cardinal sin amongst bloggers, I apologize.

Your readers (and husband Meade, who I had the pleasure of meeting in person the other day at Blaska's sing-along shindig) have since raked me over the coals both for that above slight and what they perceive to have been a baseless personal smear against you by me.

You took to your blog to do the same thing, and at rather great length:

Emily Mills' dishonest assertions about me seem to reflect her desperation, her need to believe what she wants to believe, her reflex to plug her ears and go la la la la la. I mean, look at what I actually said.

I suppose, then, it's only fair for me to defend and explain myself, especially since it would address the greater (and more important) issue at hand -- and, as you request, to look at exactly what you did write.

What really happened?

Let's get to the meat of the thing, then: I don't know what happened in Bradley's chambers on June 13. No one but the people who were actually present at that time know exactly what occurred. I will wait, then, for a full and thorough investigation of the incident to come to some clearer conclusion.

What I do know is that Justice Bradley issued an official statement alleging that Justice Prosser "put his hands around my neck in anger in a chokehold." I also know that Prosser's own press releasesimply noted that "the anonymous claim made to the media will be proven false."

That could mean that Prosser did grab Bradley by the neck -- either because, as one side claims, Prosser was throwing a tantrum, or because, as another side claims, Bradley came at Prosser with fists raised and he was merely defending himself by putting his hands on her neck.

The key point here is that we don't know. Not yet. Maybe not ever. But a whole lot of people (myself as well, I'll absolutely concede) have been making assumptions about the incident anyway, usually to back some predetermined political bias.

The biggest issue should be that any kind of violence at all is happening among our Supreme Court justices. Whether we're talking about Prosser's calling Chief Justice Abrahamson a "bitch," Abrahamson's alleged prickly treatment of dissenters, or this most recent dust-up, none of it should be happening in any workplace, let alone the highest court in the state.

When I read, then, people like Althouse immediately casting doubt more heavily on one justice over another you'll forgive me if I become wary. She claims no such bias because of several caveats stating that, "If Prosser really tried to choke a nonviolent Bradley, he should resign," but it's worth noting that each one is followed directly by yet another, longer caveat, like so:

If Prosser really tried to choke a nonviolent Bradley, he should resign. But if the original account is a trumped-up charge intended to destroy Prosser and obstruct the democratic processes of government in Wisconsin, then whoever sent the report out in that form should be held responsible for what should be recognized as a truly evil attack.

There's quite a bit more weight given to the second part of the paragraph. It's almost as if she believes one thing more than another -- as though Ann has already reached a conclusion about what actually happened that day in Bradley's chambers.

It's a clever tactic, I'll give her that. Honestly, the dirty truth is that I think all opinion-based writers are somewhat prone to it (me too!): We concede that there is some -- albeit very small -- chance that our opinion might be slightly off or even wrong, as a means of covering our asses for arguments just like this. Sometimes we even believe it. But we promptly go on to dedicate far more words to the side of the story we support more, thus showing our hand to those really looking for it.

And I'm really looking, Ann. Despite your supposition that I and others might be out to "destroy my reputation in this town," I have no personal vendetta against you -- I don't even know you -- and, indeed, there are times when I've even agreed with and/or appreciated your take on certain issues. In comparison with much of the off-the-rails stuff that comes from all corners of the political blogosphere these days, your writing is, generally, positively moderate./p>

I'm all the more surprised, then, when it seems that you've so clearly taken a side on an issue like this -- something that shouldn't be a matter of (gender or partisan) politics, but rather basic workplace safety and the very integrity of our state Supreme Court.

I strongly suspect that you would, in fact, support Prosser's removal from the bench if Bradley's version of events turned out to be absolutely true. There is nothing in me that wishes to believe that you would be OK with one justice ever laying a hand in anger on another. And I should state for the record that if Bradley also even attempted to lay a hand on Prosser in anger then she, too, should be removed. I absolutely support that.

So what?

What I'm calling out, then, is what I perceived to be an all-too quick jump to the "it was probably Bradley's/Abrahamson's/liberals fault" line of argument existent in Ann's and other's musings on the matter.

I also find it troubling -- and this is why I linked to the Publicus Proventus post in the first place -- that Ann, a UW law professor, used a line of defensive reasoning based on outcome-based thinking:

If Justice Prosser committed a criminal attack on another Justice, he shouldn't be on the court, even if he only lashed out after weeks or years of merciless bullying. And let's have the whole story. Maybe there are some other Justices who don't belong on the court. Clear out everyone who doesn't belong on the court. How will they be replaced? By appointment of the Governor -- the formidable Scott Walker.

Is that what you want, Think Progress?

It doesn't matter that Gov. Walker would get to appoint a replacement for any removed justice if we're talking about this kind of abuse by a justice or justices. What matters, for every citizen of this state, is that we have a Supreme Court that isn't a dysfunctional mess.

Althouse also casts serious doubt on the unnamed sources in the original WCIJ story breaking the news of the alleged assault while happily lending greater credibility to other unnamed sources who told the side of the story wherein Bradley instigated the whole thing:

  1. "...if it's true Prosser reached a breaking point and started strangling Bradley, he should go. I doubt that's true, however, because there was no arrest. That's why we're getting the story in this unsourced, piecemeal form."
  2. "A more nuanced report from the Journal Sentinel has (unnamed) sources disagreeing about what happened. Someone is saying Bradley charged at Prosser with fist raised, and she ran into his defensively raised hands, then cried choked."

Then there's the part where Ann is sure to point out that she believes Bradley to be "significantly larger" (and younger!) than Prosser, as though that would make some kind of difference no matter what way things actually played out.

Why such quick and fervent need to discredit Bradley and Abrahamson, anyway? It's common knowledge that the Chief Justice, while a brilliant legal mind, is not exactly a warm and fuzzy pillow of a co-worker. Still I ask, in all sincerity, if those now accusing her of being the major cause of the discord on the court would be doing the same thing if Abrahamson were a man?

And would they be so quick to disbelieve Bradley's account if she weren't a woman? (This is certainly not the case with everyone, of course, maybe not even Ann, maybe not consciously -- but given our society's propensity for blaming and/or shaming the female victims of various kinds of assault, you can't blame me for being on edge about this.)

Ann also posits, "I think the point is to discredit Prosser and the conservative majority on the court, to undermine the public's faith in the work of the court." Putting aside the fact that the enormously expensive, dirty, disingenuous campaigns of the last several years have done plenty to undermine the public's faith in the work of the court already, Prosser's declaration of being a "common sense complement" to the Republican-controlled Legislature and the Walker administration, as well as their hasty ruling on the collective bargaining bill, didn't help on that count, either.

How else are we supposed to take a statement like that, then, than as a none-too subtle wink and nod to Walker supporters that this judge is already on their side? And shouldn't we be looking to avoid elected justices who even hint at something like that, regardless of the side to which they're pandering?

Now let's move on to how Ann approached the original Lueders article. Her post on the subject, first of all, was titled "How stupid/evil was Bill Lueders' attack on Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser?" If that's not leading the witness, I don't know what is.

It's interesting, too, that Lueders says that, at the time they were interviewing witnesses of the original incident, no one said anything about Bradley charging Prosser. When that information did finally come out via the MJS piece, Lueders updated his story to include it. But why was no one saying anything about it initially? Why not report that nugget right away so the first story to break had more "nuance?" (see what I did there?)

We know there was an initial inquiry into what happened because we now know that Bradley urged Prosser to seek anger management treatment during a meeting with Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs on June 15. Clearly there was some kind of investigation right off the bat, then, though we can only guess what stage it had reached by the time Lueders' story was published -- and if there had been no further investigation at the time, then why?

P-p-p-poker face

Ann claims that she's "not a pro-Prosser blogger." Fair enough. I wonder if she's nursing a slight persecution complex, though:

It's too much like the attack from Bill Wineke that I felt I had to respond to yesterday. Both writers are attacking me as a law professor at the University of Wisconsin. I think they would like to destroy my reputation in this town, where they so casually assume the benefits of inclusion in what is a political majority here. I think they carelessly and lazily believe that local readers will eat up the sloppy attacks they're serving, because local readers agree with their political ends.

As they rush at me from across town shaking their balled-up fists in my face, I feel I must extend my fingers in self-defense, and type out an exposé of their shoddy work for a larger audience.

That final statement is right up there with the image Blaska included with his post calling on Abrahamson to resign. C-L-A-S-S-Y. In other words -- You've shown your hand, Ann, and while it may not be an overtly partisan one, it sure ain't completely without bias.

In the language of my former Oklahoman home, then: Don't pee on my boot and tell me it's raining, and I'll do my best to return the favor.

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