Wednesday, March 27, 2013--6:25p.m.
MADISON--In recent years Wisconsin supreme court races have become highly politicized--and the justices themselves have made headlines.
In 2011 there were reports of a physical altercation between Justice David Prosser and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley--in the presence of the other justices. In a heated exchange, Bradley confronted Prosser and Prosser reacted. Some say he put Bradley in a choke hold, others said he merely touched her neck.
Now that confrontation has become an issue in the current campaign.
That 2011 incident has sparked a debate between challenger Ed Fallone and incumbent Justice Pat Roggensack about disciplinary actions.
"Voters around the state constantly tell me that they want there to be accountability from that incident between Justice Prosser and Justice Bradley," said Fallone. "And they're frustrated that almost two years later the matter's stuck in a legal limbo."
Standard procedure would have meant a panel of appeals court judges would recommend any disciplinary actions to the Supreme Court. But Justice Roggensack recused herself from the case. It's a step Fallone has been critical of on the campaign trail. "Justice Roggensack recused herself, stepped down from hearing that case, I think unnecessarily," he said. "Caused two other justices to also recuse themselves and so the normal process was not allowed to go forward."
For her part, Justice Roggensack maintains that she could not have participated in the case: "I recused myself because we have a statute......that says if you are a material witness you cannot be a judge," she explained. "I physically separated Justice Bradley and Justice Prosser by putting my body in between them and holding onto Justice Bradley until she calmed down. I'm not fair and unbiased in that interaction. It would be totally inappropriate and ethically inappropriate for me to sit on a case when I know I'm not unbiased."
She said the judicial commission was never set up to handle a situation as wild as what occurred, but pledged to sit down with her colleagues to look at ways to repair the court's image, if re-elected. "The court does have the inherent authority to A, condemn the conduct, B resolve that it will not happen again and assure the public why they should have confidence in the court going forward," she said.
Fallone maintains that the normal process should have been followed and promised to try to get that process back on track, if elected. "The recusal happened before the matter was even referred to the three judge panel at the court of appeals," he said. "So I absolutely believe we have adequate procedures in place, we simply needed to let them go forward."
Wednesday, March 27, 2013--6:20p.m.
MADISON--Ed Fallone and Pat Roggensack are the two candidates vying for your vote in the State Supreme Court race this Tuesday.
"I think there's two things that make me the better candidate in this election," said Fallone. "First is my broad range of legal experience and the depth of my knowledge." Fallone has been a law professor for 20 years and said he also has experience leading non-profit groups. According to him, the state's top court is dysfunctional and needs someone like him to get it back on track. "When the justices can't seem to get along, I have experience working on multi-member bodies and boards, I know how to build consensus, I know how to show compromise and I know I can move the court forward," he said.
But Fallone has never served as a judge before. "I know I can jump to the state supreme court without having been a judge because so many of our finest state supreme court justices assumed the bench without having been a judge," he said. "It's not about prior judicial experience, it's about the breadth and depth of your legal knowledge."
His opponent, incumbent Justice Pat Roggensack, argued that professional experience is what makes her the stronger choice. "You can't read a book and learn how to be a judge," he said. "You learn it day after day, decision after decision."
Justice Roggensack said she too was a lawyer, before jumping to the bench for the court of appeals and then to the state's Supreme Court. "When you step on the other side of the bench and you become a judge, the process is altogether different," she said. "First of all you're not an advocate for any particular group or person. You really just try to work through the law and apply it in an even-handed fashion."
In response to Fallone's assertion that the court is dysfunctional, Justice Roggensack pointed out that the court is not as divided as some might assume. "Last year out of 59 cases there were only four that were 4-3 opinions. Of those four there were only three that are the 'conservative majority' as opposed to the less conservative minority," she said.