In recent years, three of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s four conservatives were charged with ethics violations by the Wisconsin Judicial Commission — Justice Annette Ziegler for presiding over cases involving a bank where her husband was a director, Justice Michael Gableman for running a misleading campaign ad, and Justice David Prosser for allegedly grabbing a fellow justice by the neck. In the wake of these charges, all four of the court’s conservatives voted in a party-line vote not to reappoint the chair of this commission:
The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative majority has decided not to reappoint the leader of a commission working to discipline Justice David Prosser.
Wisconsin Judicial Commission Chairman John Dawson’s term ends Aug. 1. Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley and Justice Patrick Crooks [Editor's Note: Abrahamson, Bradley and Crooks make up the dissenting bloc on the conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court] sent Dawson a letter Friday saying the court had decided it didn’t want him back.
The decision was made in a closed vote. The three justices didn’t reveal the tally, but it takes four votes to make a decision and all three of them said they supported Dawson. That means the four-justice conservative majority, which includes Prosser, did not.
Currently, the only pending ethics charge against a member of the state’s highest court is the charge against Prosser. Ziegler received a public reprimand for her ethical lapse and the charges against Gableman were eventually dropped after the remaining justices split 3-3 along party lines on whether Gableman committed misconduct.
The case against Prosser may get shut down before it even begins, however, thanks to a quirk in Wisconsin state law. Normally, when the judicial commission brings an ethics charge of this kind, a three judge panel is appointed to determine whether that charge has merits. As a technical matter, however, that panel must be approved by the state supreme court itself. Prosser is now trying to prevent such approval from even being given by asking his colleagues to recuse themselves from the case — something one of his fellow conservatives has already agreed to do. If two or more of his remaining colleagues follow along, that will mean that the court lacks a quorum to approve a panel, and the case against Prosser will be blocked by this technicality.