Wis. SC deliberations will remain private

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Sep 16, 2011


MADISON, Wis. (Legal Newsline) - The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday voted 6-1 against a proposal that called for making more of the Court's deliberations public.

The Court's conservative majority believed doing so would be a mistake, according to the Appleton Post Crescent.

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson submitted the proposal for open deliberations last week, at the start of the state high court's new term, in response to a recent physical altercation between two Wisconsin Supreme Court justices.

"We should be, above all, a place where disputes are resolved -- openly, civilly, professionally -- not where they are created," she wrote.

Last month, a special prosecutor said she would not bring charges against Justice David Prosser, who was alleged to have physically attacked Justice Ann Walsh Bradley in her chambers in June.

According to the 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.

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 special prosecutor said Bradley also will not face criminal charges. However, the state Judicial Commission is doing its own investigation into the matter.

Among her suggestions, Abrahamson asked the Court to consider making all court conferences open to the public. Right now, only the Court's administrative meetings and oral arguments are public.

The chief justice also suggested all court conferences be taped, with the tapes being released after the period for reconsideration of opinions has expired.

At Thursday's meeting, Justice Annette Ziegler feared taping deliberations could turn the Court into a reality show, the Post Crescent reported.

Prosser said comments made during such public deliberations also could give attorneys ammunition, and that it could influence what the Court says.

Justice Patrick Crooks agreed, saying open deliberations could hinder the Court's discussions, the newspaper reported.

Abrahamson's lone supporter was Bradley, who said the Court would benefit from the transparency. However, she, too, voted against the proposal.

Also on Thursday, the Court voted 5-2 against opening up case acceptance discussions and releasing deliberation records, according to the Post Crescent.

In addition, it tabled another proposal by Abrahamson to retain an expert on small group dynamics to work with each justice to help him or her work in a more constructive manner. The Court also tabled her proposal to obtain professional training in conflict resolution.

The Court won't take up the matters until its Sept. 28 meeting.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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