When Bill Foust reached Sauk County District Attorney Patricia Barrett and popped the question, it didn't take Barrett long to respond to the chief judge of the Dane County Circuit Court.
"Judges ask questions because they need answers," Barrett said during a phone interview. "He asked if I would accept the job, and I said, 'Yes, I accept.'"
"It's part of my job," she added.
On Monday Foust named Barrett the special prosecutor who will determine whether charges will be filed in the politically charged dustup between State Supreme Court Justices David Prosser and Ann Walsh Bradley. Barrett has been Sauk County's DA for the past 17 years.
Barrett, who said she will retire after her current term ends in 2012, is now asked to sift through the Dane County Sheriff's Office investigation of the alleged June 13 incident. That was one day before the Supreme Court voted 4-3 to overturn a circuit court judge's ruling that a legislative committee had violated the state's open meetings law when it passed Gov. Scott Walker's proposal eliminating the collective bargaining rights of most public workers.
By Bradley's account, Prosser put her in a chokehold while the two were in her office discussing the court's decision. Prosser, who voted with the majority in the case, refutes that account and says he was protecting himself when Bradley charged him.
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne asked Foust to appoint a special prosecutor to eliminate an appearance of a conflict of interest. Ozanne was a party to the open meetings lawsuit.
It was not clear why Foust selected Barrett to handle the investigation. He emailed a terse "no comment" after being contacted for comment.
Barrett is a Republican, though that may be in name only. Tim McCumber, the head of the Republican Party in Sauk County, described her as more of an independent who initially used the Republican label to get a spot on the ballot back in 1994.
"I know she's a pretty good prosecutor," said McCumber, whose organization's website declares, "Holding the line against Madison."
"She ran for judge a few years ago and I voted against her because I thought she did such a good job as DA. I've never told her that, so I'll probably get in trouble now. But she's pretty independent. She's not especially active, or maybe I should say she's not an activist.
"I'm surprised when anyone in Dane County does something fair and shows common sense."
Barrett said that though she runs as a Republican, she leaves politics at the door when it comes to her job.
"My belief has always been that the prosecutor and sheriff's jobs are not partisan," she said. "It's just not appropriate to hold those positions and be partisan."
Barrett, 62, said she has not had legal business with either justice in the case, though she has met both socially.
Barrett was not sure what role, if any, her pending retirement may have played in Foust's decision. She made the announcement during her 2008 campaign, the first time she was elected to a four-year term after seven campaigns for two-year terms.
"Actually, I'm pretty old," she said with a laugh. "I don't think you should be doing this job when you're 68."