By Kevin Binversie
With the Capitol Police handing over the investigation to the Dane County Sheriff’s Office on Monday, the fact is, right now, we don’t know much about what actually happened in the hallowed chambers of our Wisconsin Supreme Court. That lack of information appears to be intentional.
On Saturday morning, a left-wing outfit supported in part by grants from George Soros’ Open Society Institute called the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism dropped a story that during a heated argument, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser – a conservative just re-elected in April – placed his hands around the neck of Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, a member of the court’s liberal wing and close confidante of Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson.
The initial article was written by Bill Lueders, based on what he called “sketchy details” from three sources he cited on the basis of anonymity. To his credit, Lueders did not use the words “choked” or “strangled” in his initial report because clearly his sources could not confirm if it got to that point. Yet by the time his story was picked up by the liberal blogosphere, choking and strangling became the accepted version of events. They called for Prosser to resign.
Yet, when reporters of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel dug into it, they found multiple sources giving a more nuanced story. One source confirmed that Prosser’s hands were around Bradley’s neck, but said the justice didn’t apply any pressure. Another source told the Milwaukee newspaper it was instead Justice Bradley who was the aggressor — that she, in fact, charged at Prosser “with fists raised,” and he raised his hands to defend himself in the chaos. Another source put four of the other Supreme Court justices in the room, with one of them quoted as saying to an agitated and angry Bradley, “You were not choked.”
Prosser has since denied the reports in a statement and is no longer commenting. He said an investigation will prove the accusations false. Bradley, meanwhile, has doubled-down on the “he choked me!” line and repeated it in statements to the press.
To add insult to insanity, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who has seen everything from his Democratic colleagues fleeing to Illinois to almost non-stop protests during floor sessions, called the alleged “Supreme Court Scrum,” “crazier than the legislature.“
These new reports from the Journal Sentinel so changed the dynamic of the initial report. It caused the Center for Investigative Journalism to change its own version of the story to make it more in line with other media sources.
Lueders is many things. He’s a well-respected writer on both sides of the political divide in Wisconsin for a number of decades. He helped in the founding and development of two well-known and well-read local (but overwhelmingly liberal) weeklies in the Shepherd Express of Milwaukee and The Isthmus in Madison. But no one has ever said he’s a journalist first. Lueders – like the Madison Capitol Times’ John Nichols and The Isthmus David Blaska – is an activist journalist.
And that appears to be the case here. Traditionally, any story built from ‘sketchy’ details, based on anonymous sources should have never seen the light of day until Lueders had the full story. He has been in the industry long enough to know that, so either he let it slide on this one, or he just didn’t care because of he felt he had Prosser — a conservative he’s never had much love for — dead to rights.
There are a lot of factors here, all of which are along the lines of stupid and petty. So stupid and petty, you’d think we were dealing with toddlers and not some of the most respected legal minds in the state of Wisconsin.
Yes, Prosser has a temper and a short fuse. This is a well-known and documented fact since his Assembly days. However, what’s lost in a lot of the coverage is the apparent sycophantic defense Walsh Bradley has for Chief Justice Abrahamson if the “she charged him version” of the events is true.
The battle of factions within the Wisconsin Supreme Court is well-known in both the state’s legal and political circles; but now it’s to a point that public back-stabbing and reports of physical altercations only help feed growing concern the court is teetering into professional dysfunction. Somewhere, someone has to be the adult in the room; but from the look of things, we’re a long way from that with the justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native who has been blogging on the state’s political culture for more than eight years. He has served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous Wisconsin Republican campaigns in various capacities, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org