Women's rally to call for Prosser's retirement

Jessica M. Karmasek Jul. 12, 2011, 10:22am


MADISON, Wis. (Legal Newsline) - Women's rights organizations in Wisconsin have planned a rally at the state Capitol Tuesday to call on state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser to step down amid allegations he attacked a fellow justice.

Various women's groups -- including NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, the Madison chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, Madison's National Organization for Women, Wisconsin Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and Women's Medical Fund Inc. -- organized the "Prosser Must Go" rally, expected to start at noon.

The organizations say they are asking Prosser to do what anyone else accused of violence in the workplace would be required to do -- step down until the investigation is concluded.

"As a member of the highest court in Wisconsin, Justice Prosser sits in a position of high trust," Lisa Subeck, City of Madison alderwoman and executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, said in a statement last week.

"No individual is above the law, especially an elected official sworn to uphold the very laws he is accused of breaking. As a gesture of respect for the law, Justice Prosser should take a leave from his position while these official investigations unfold."

Last month, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley claimed that Prosser physically attacked her in her chambers.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, Prosser allegedly attacked Bradley on June 13. That was the day before the state's high court released an opinion upholding Gov. Scott Walker's controversial Budget Repair Bill.

"Three knowledgeable sources" told the Center that Prosser and Bradley were arguing about the ruling in front of the other justices. When Bradley asked Prosser to leave her chambers, Prosser then grabbed her neck with both hands, the sources said.

Bradley, herself, recounted the attack to the Journal Sentinel.

"The facts are that I was demanding that he get out of my office and he put his hands around my neck in anger in a chokehold," she told the newspaper.

However, others told the Journal Sentinel that Bradley charged Prosser and that the justice put up his hands to defend himself, coming in contact with Bradley's neck.

Prosser, who was recently reelected to the Court, says Bradley's claims will be "proven false."

"Once there's a proper review of the matter and the facts surrounding it are made clear, the anonymous claims made to the media will be proven false. Until then, I will refrain from further public comment," he said in a recent statement.

Still, the facts of the case remain unclear, said Elizabeth Galewski, president of the Madison chapter of NOW.

"Legally, physically assaulting a citizen of Wisconsin is a serious charge that constitutes a physical assault against the entire state. That is why the citizens of Wisconsin deserve an investigation into this matter. Justice Prosser also deserves a chance to clear his name if these allegations prove to be false," she said in a statement.

The women's groups say workplace violence is a serious and all too common crime. They point to statistics by the U.S. Department of Justice.

According to the department, workplace violence accounts for 24 percent of all non-fatal violent crime against individuals who are employed, and four out of every 1000 women are victimized by workplace violence annually.

"Violence against women takes many forms -- from domestic violence to sexual assault to workplace violence," Dane County Board Supervisor Dianne Hesselbein said in a statement.

"All women should have the right to a workplace free of violence and abuse, and no woman should be disempowered by the abusive words or actions of a colleague."

County Board Supervisor Carousel Bayrd said as an elected official, Prosser is a role model and trusted by those he represents.

"Justice Prosser has a responsibility to the citizens of Wisconsin to do the right thing and take a leave from office until an investigation of his actions is complete and to resign immediately if Justice Bradley's account of the choking incident is confirmed."

The women's groups aren't the only ones calling for Prosser to step down.

Last week, a Wisconsin non-profit, non-partisan advocacy group called for the justice to resign.

One Wisconsin Now -- which also was expected to participate in Tuesday's rally -- delivered to the Court the names of more than 10,000 people calling for Prosser's removal.

While an investigation into the incident has been authorized by the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, the group says that isn't enough.

"There is no excuse for David Prosser's conduct and the people of Wisconsin are demanding he resign. Even Prosser's ally Scott Walker has acknowledged how serious this incident is," said Scot Ross, the group's executive director.

"There is one reason the eyes of the nation are focused on our state's high court and it is because of David Prosser's unconscionable conduct towards Justice Bradley."

The judicial commission said late last month an investigation into the matter will be conducted "without prejudgment in a fair and thorough manner" in accord with commission procedures.

However, all judicial commission proceedings are confidential pursuant to state code.

"The Commission will have no further comment," it said of the incident.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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