Courtroom Drama

In last Tuesday’s primary elections, one of the most high-profile races (and the only statewide contest) involved the seat of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Patience Roggensack.  Roggensack will face challenger Ed Fallone, a law professor at Marquette, in the general election on April 2. A third participant, Vince Megna, has been eliminated from the competition.

Seems like a pretty pedestrian event, right? A low-turnout February primary? Why, then, have we chosen this non-momentous event to mark the unofficial reboot of La Flog?

Well, turns out there’s a little more intrigue to the story.

The Wisconsin judiciary is officially nonpartisan, but it can be no surprise that it is split into a liberal wing and conservative faction, the latter to which Roggensack belongs.  This split became amplified in the late spring of 2011 as the political tumult surrounding Governor Walker’s agenda crested, when…here, let’s let Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel explain:

“In the June 2011 incident, six of the seven justices were in [Justice Ann Walsh] Bradley’s office arguing over the release of a decision upholding Gov. Scott Walker’s sharp limits on collective bargaining for public employees. Bradley went over to [Justice David] Prosser in an attempt to get him to leave and he put his hands on her neck in what he says was a defensive gesture. Prosser says Bradley charged him with her fist raised, which Bradley denies.”

But that’s not all.  On February 13 of this year, Justice Bradley issued her recusal from the ethics investigation that had commenced against Prosser.  The document reveals that Bradley had received “enhanced security” in March of 2011, well before the alleged choking incident, and had that she, as well as the Chief Justice, “continue to lock ourselves inside our private offices when working alone because of concerns for our physical safety due to Justice Prosser’s behavior.”  (See p. 5).  Further, Bradley details interactions with Roggensack in which Roggensack was less than sympathetic to Bradley’s plight.

(By the way, if you hadn’t guessed by now, Bradley and Prosser don’t belong to the same “wing” of the court.  Bradley falls into the liberal camp, and Prosser is on the conservative side.)

What effect did all of this have, less than one week before the primary?  After all, Fallone had painted Roggensack as a contributor to the Court’s dysfunction, despite Roggensack’s attempts to disassociate herself from the event.  Would a controversy clearly still simmering over 18 months after its inception damage Roggensack’s reelection chances?  Or would Roggensack’s advantages both monetarily  (she was the only candidate to run a television ad) and as an incumbent stave off the negative publicity?

Roggensack won 64 percent of the vote and is a heavy favorite to retain her seat in the April election.

Looks like Roggensack has one fewer confrontation to worry about now.

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