The conservative Wisconsin justice who allegedly grabbed fellow justice Ann Walsh Bradley by the neck during an argument in her chambers was perceived as a threat long before that June 2011 incident, according to a filing by Bradley recusing herself from the related judicial ethics proceeding.
Two months earlier, Bradley and Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson had developed a security plan that included locking themselves in their offices on nights and weekends, and securing more frequent police patrols. Other incidents that led them to be concerned included a 2010 correspondence in which Prosser reportedly called Abrahamson a “total bitch” and said, “There will be a war against you and it will not be a ground war.” Bradley explains in her filing:
Contrary to Justice Prosser’s answer to the Judicial Commission complaint and to recent public comments, what happened in my office on June 13, 2011 is not an isolated event. Rather, it is one event in a history of abusive behavior in our workplace that has escalated from tantrums and rages, to threats, and now to physical contact. [...]
In late March 2011—two months before the incident in my office—it appeared to me and others that Justice Prosser’s behavior was becoming increasingly agitated. One newspaper editorial characterized his comments as “odd,” “troubling” and “unsettling.” A then, but now retired, Deputy Director of State Courts contacted me to warn of her concern that Justice Prosser may endanger my physical safety as well as that of the Chief Justice. [...]
To this day, the Chief Justice and I continue to lock ourselves inside our private offices when working alone because of concerns for our physical safety due to Justice Prosser’s behavior. That is not a satisfactory solution. Our court needs to address and solve its workplace safety issue. If nothing is done, I wonder what will happen next in this escalating pattern of abusive behavior.
It appears, however, that nothing will be done in the immediate future. Although ethics charges were filed against Prosser after the June 2011 incident in which Prosser admitted putting his hands around Bradley’s neck “to protect himself,” Prosser had already convinced three of his fellow conservatives on the court to recuse themselves from the case — eliminating the necessary quorum to appoint a three-judge panel and effectively immunizing him from any disciplinary action. And his fellow justices replaced an ethics official who supported the probe with one who had called the ethics allegations “unfairly directed.” In her memo, Bradley urged reform of the judicial discipline process in which “justices sitting in judgment of their closest colleagues.” “In any other place of employment,” she reasons “there likely would be serious consequences for such a response.”