MADISON, Wis. — A conservative Wisconsin state Supreme Court justice who staved off an unusually intense campaign to replace him this summer will not face criminal charges over allegations that he tried to choke a liberal colleague, a prosecutor said Thursday.
Sauk County District Attorney Patricia Barrett, a special prosecutor in the case, said that after reviewing investigators' reports, she decided there's no basis to file charges against either Justice David Prosser or Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, who accused Prosser of choking her.
Barrett, who is a Republican, told The Associated Press that the accounts of the other justices who were present when the alleged altercation occurred varied widely, however she declined to elaborate.
"I believe a complete review of the report suggests there is a difference of opinion. There are a variety of statements about what occurred ... the totality of what did happen does not support criminal charges against either Justice Bradley or Justice Prosser," Barrett said.
Walsh Bradley accused Prosser of choking her in June while the justices were deliberating the merits of a lawsuit challenging Republican Gov. Scott Walker's contentious law stripping public workers of most of their collective bargaining rights. Walsh Bradley, 61, is seen as part of the court's three-justice liberal minority, while Prosser, a 68-year-old former Republican legislator, is considered part of the four-justice conservative majority. The factions have been feuding for years.
The court delivered its verdict the day after the alleged incident, ruling 4-3 to uphold the law and allowing it to finally take effect. As expected, Prosser voted with the majority.
Prosser, who had to campaign unusually hard to retain his seat after Democratic and union leaders came to see it as key to tilting the court – and the collective bargaining decision – in their favor, has strongly denied the choking allegations. He issued a statement Thursday saying he knew he would be exonerated and accusing Walsh Bradley of sensationalizing the incident.
"I am gratified that the prosecutor found these scurrilous charges were without merit. I look forward to the details of this investigation becoming public record," said Prosser.
Walsh Bradley issued her own statement saying she was never focused on prosecuting Prosser and only wanted to address what she termed a "workplace safety issue."
"I well understand the difficulty of gaining any criminal conviction," she said. "The prosecution's burden of proof is very heavy, as it should be. I also know that criminal charges alone would not have addressed our safety in the workplace and the special prosecutor's decision not to file charges does not resolve the safety issue, either."
The Dane County Sheriff's Department, which conducted the investigation, has not released the reports.
Because the justices were at the state Capitol when the alleged altercation occurred, it fell under the jurisdiction of Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, who filed the lawsuit challenging the union rights law that the justices were deliberating.
But Ozanne, a Democrat, asked a judge to appoint a special prosecutor in his place, saying he wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest since Prosser was among those who ruled against his legal challenge. Dane County Chief Judge. C. William Foust assigned the case to Barrett, instead.
The Wisconsin Judicial Commission has launched an internal investigation into Walsh Bradley's allegations as well. The commission issued a statement Thursday saying that it is still investigating.
Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, another member of the liberal bloc and a close friend of Walsh Bradley, said in a statement that she will propose to the justices this fall that all court conferences be open to the public to promote "civility."