At National Review, Christian Schneider has what seems to be the most comprehensive account so far of the incident in which liberal Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Bradley was allegedly choked by conservative Justice David Prosser, who was just returned to his seat in a bitterly contested election.
National Review is naturally going to be predisposed towards Prosser's side. Keeping that in mind, if the facts as reported are correct, three things are pretty clear:
1) Bradley started it by shaking her fist at Bradley and pushing herself nose-to-nose, conditions under which many people might have tried to push her away by putting their hands on her shoulders.
2) Prosser did not put any pressure on her neck, something Bradley herself seems to have admitted, though she says that this is only because another justice pulled her away.
3) Either the original story relied on people who had no first-hand knowledge of the incident, or the source of the story is Bradley herself, and (also liberal) Chief Justice Abrahamson; the conservative justices seem to be backing Prosser:
There were six justices present at the time of the incident, four of whom would be more likely to back Prosser's version of the story. That leaves Abrahamson and Bradley as the only two remaining justices present. One source present speculated the third source may have been Bradley's law clerk, who likely didn't actually see the confrontation but may have head Bradley shout "I was choked."
Liberals are probably going to be disposed to believe that Abrahamson and Bradley are pursuing a legitimate grievance against Prosser, a self-admitted hothead who called Abrahamson a "bitch" and threatened to destroy her, and that the conservative justices are covering up for their abusive colleague. Conservatives will be likely to take the view that Bradley is a vengeful self-dramatist who inflates petty conflicts into savage attacks for political purposes.
I personally am heavily influenced by the fact that Bradley apparently declined to press charges against Prosser, and instead chose to prosecute her grievance by leaking to a reporter--a leak that airbrushed out pertinent details like the fact that she was standing nose-to-nose with him and shaking her fist when he allegedly started choking her. This does not seem to me like the behavior of someone who is confident that the facts will bear her out; it seems, well, like the behavior of a vengeful self-dramatist who inflates petty conflicts into savage attacks for political purposes. It's not as if the sheriff is likely to whitewash things for Prosser; he supported Prosser's opponent in the last election.
I'm also not thrilled that the outlet that originally reported the story somehow failed to check with the three other conservative judges who, reading between the lines, are pretty clearly backing Prosser's account. It's not like it seems to have been very hard to get them to talk; the Journal Sentinel had the story of "Bradley's Charge" less than 24 hours later, and they now seem to be leaking far and wide. So why couldn't this outlet get any of them on the horn?
But it is early days yet; law enforcement is investigating, and there are probably many pertinent facts not contained in Schneider's story. Frankly, whatever way you look at it, someone has behaved in behavior so extraordinarily unbecoming a justice that I find it difficult to believe either way. Having known quite a few people who liked to exaggerate the things that were done to them, I find this marginally more plausible than that a Supreme Court justice started choking his colleague in front of four witnesses--but only marginally.
Whatever you believe, it's clear that the court dynamic has become unbelievably toxic. And I fear that this sort of thing is becoming more and more common in today's partisan environment.
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is a columnist at Bloomberg View
and a former senior editor at The Atlantic.
Her new book is The Up Side of Down