WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Following an allegation of assault and a dispute over judicial recusal standards, the Wisconsin Supreme Court is suffering from an image problem, a new poll shows.
Justice at Stake on Thursday released the results of a poll of 750 registered voters, with only one-third of them saying they have confidence in the court. That figure represents a 19-percent drop since a survey conducted three years ago.
Justice at Stake is an organization critical of judicial elections like the ones they have in Wisconsin.
"Wisconsin's citizens are losing faith and confidence in their supreme court," said Bert Brandenburg, Executive Director of Justice at Stake. "Courts are supposed to be the one safe place where people know they are going to get a fair hearing, without worrying about partisan political influence.
"But in Wisconsin, there are real questions about whether the public has lost confidence that their supreme court can issue fair and impartial decisions."
Justice Ann Walsh Bradley is claiming that Justice David 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.
"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.
The poll shows 84 percent of voters are aware of Bradley's allegations, and another 80 percent are aware of an alleged incident where Prosser threatened to "destroy" Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson during an argument.
Last week, the court also showed it was split on when a justice should be disqualified from hearing a case. A 4-3 decision said Justice Patience Drake Roggensack was not wrong to hear a criminal appeal, but the minority said Roggensack shouldn't have participated in the decision.
"Justice Roggensack fails to respect a bedrock principle of law that predates the American justice system by more than a century -- "no man is allowed to be a judge of his own cause" -- a principle recently repeated by Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for a majority of the United States Supreme Court in the Caperton case," Abrahamson wrote.
"That Justice Roggensack participates in this motion for reconsideration is not a due process or ethical calculation but a mathematical one: one vote plus three votes equals an attempt to achieve a majority."
Justice at Stake asked voters if they would support a merit selection system. Twenty-three percent said they would, but that number increased to 49 percent when the merit selection system was paired with retention elections.
The poll was conducted Monday-Wednesday by 20/20 Insight Polling with a margin of error of +/- 3.6 percent.
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.