OTR Interviews

Why a Referee May Be Needed in Wisconsin's Supreme Court

Audio tapes give insight on physical altercation between justices


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," August 29, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTERN, FOX NEWS HOST: Wisconsin State Supreme Court Justice David Prosser admits he put his hands around the neck of fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, but he says he was not choking her and instead she charged at him. He says he was just defending himself. All this was done in front of four other state supreme court justices. A detective was then called to find out what was going on. The detective's interviews with the justices were taped and not released. Here is Justice Prosser telling the detective his side of the story.


JUDGE DAVID PROSSER, WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: So I'm looking here, and suddenly she charged at me. It's as simple as that. I've heard some stories about walking up. No. She charged at me. It would be just like this. She is coming on. And all that I can remember is this kind of looking this way, her face is right in this area and her fist is right about here.

Now, I don't know, but if my hands were here, I kind of suspect I went like that. It's as simple as that. Now, did my hands touch her neck? Yes, they did. I admit that. I admit that. Did I try to touch her neck? No, absolutely not. It was a total reflex.


VAN SUSTEREN: Let me remind you, this is the highest court of Wisconsin making very important decisions for its citizens. Joining us Jason Stein, reporter with the "Milwaukee Journal Sentinel." Jason, subsequent to this incident, whatever happened, a detective investigated it and no criminal charges will be brought. Now it is being sent to a judicial commission.

But why were they fighting to begin with? What was it that both sides are trying to achieve before the assault?

JASON STEIN, "THE MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL": Well, this goes back to Governor Scott Walker's bill to repair the state budget and end most collective bargaining for public employees. And I know your viewers are familiar with that bill. It was struck down by a trial court judge in March. In June the court was arguing whether or not the timing of releasing their decision that would restore that law. Justice Prosser and other people in the majority on that decision were eager to get that decision out the door before the legislature took another vote to essentially pass the same legislation again. And so there was an argument over when to release this decision and they were trying to get it released more quickly.

VAN SUSTEREN: And Justice Prosser was accusing Chief Justice Shirley Abramson, who was the author of the dissent, of dragging her heels so it would be passed this deadline. He was accusing her of playing politics so they would have to have another vote in the assembly.

I guess therein lies my real criticism of the court besides the fact I don't think people should be charging each other and putting their hands around each other's throats, is that the Wisconsin Supreme Court was making -- was releasing a decision for political reasons rather than for judicial.

STEIN: Certainly the politics of this, as you know Wisconsin everything has been extremely partisan and political in recent days. I'll leave that to people to decide what they may of that, whether they felt that was praise worthy because they were trying to be timely or that was playing politics. Yes, they certainly, Prosser in his taped testimony that you just gave an excerpt from, did talk about feeling that the -- he felt the court was in an awkward position. They felt they needed to get this decision out quickly.

VAN SUSTEREN: I read the police reports. It is so weird. It's like they are at tattling on each other. Then they have a meeting on the 15th where they bring in the chief of police. And Justice Walsh stars crying and rehearses some speech. Then he denies it. Another justice says she was just goading him. This is so weird. I cannot understand how account people of Wisconsin have any faith when it looks like -- how can the people of Wisconsin have any faith when it looks like kindergarten, at best?

STEIN: It is a very awkward for the court and for the people of the state. Every legal observer has expressed nothing but dismay over this. It's things that you never expected to hear about the court. Justice Bradley saying she called him buddy because she wanted to put him in the diminutive. Him saying when he put his hands on her neck he could feel the warmth of it. There are things you don't expect to hear justices saying.

VAN SUSTEREN: Are any of the newspaper asking for them to step down? People have very serious disputes and their whole lives depend on decisions on the Supreme Court, and this isn't fair to the people. Are newspaper editors saying they got to go?

STEIN: You are right this is sort of funny, but no joke. One thing that I've heard the time when this all came out Governor Walker talked about the possibility of having an appointed rather than elected court. And that didn't go anywhere. It didn't seem like that proposal -- seems like it would be dead on arrival in our legislature. But certainly there's been a number of people saying, look, this can't go on. Something has got to change.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now it has gone to the judicial commission to investigate. The judicial commission investigates has hearings to determine whether there is any wrongdoing. If there is, they give it to the Supreme Court to decide what to do, right?

STEIN: You got it.

VAN SUSTEREN: That is insane. Can we agree that is nutty? They've now sent it to a judicial committee to decide. Then the Supreme Court decides what to do about themselves.

STEIN: It is their policing themselves essentially, yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you.

STEIN: Thank you very much.