A fight between Wisconsin's divided Supreme Court justices led Monday to a criminal investigation and calls from the governor and others to resolve longstanding differences and restore public confidence in the institution.
Liberal Justice Ann Walsh Bradley told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that conservative Justice David Prosser tried to choke her during an argument in her state Capitol office on June 13, the day before the court handed down a decision upholding a new law that eliminates most public employees' collective bargaining rights. Prosser has denied the allegations.
Dane County Sheriff David Mahoney said his office has opened an investigation into the incident at the request of Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs, whose agency had original jurisdiction because the argument allegedly took place in the Capitol building.
Tubbs said in a statement he asked the sheriff to handle the matter after consulting with members of the court. He didn't elaborate and a spokeswoman for the agency that oversees the Capitol Police didn't immediately respond to a message.
The state judicial commission, which oversees judicial conduct, announced Monday afternoon that it opened a probe on Friday. The commission could ultimately make a discipline recommendation to the Supreme Court, potentially putting the justices in a position to rule on the fate of one of their colleagues.
Gov. Scott Walker, who pushed the union law as a means of saving money, said the justices must end their long-standing divisions for the sake of public confidence in the court.
Howard Schweber, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political science and law professor, said the tensions between the justices reflect a more partisan atmosphere on the court. Large injections of special interest money into the justices' campaigns have turned the court into a political battleground, he said.
The latest incident has turned the court into a "laughingstock" and reduced a once-respected institution into fodder for late-night comedy shows, Schweber said.
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