By Bill Lueders
Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne announced Monday that he is asking that a special prosecutor be named to review a report prepared by the Dane County Sheriff’s Office into a June 13 altercation between two state Supreme Court justices.
“I take this action not because I feel this office wouldn’t be fair, but so that any decision can be free from accusations” of bias or political motivation, Ozanne said in a statement. He will ask William Foust, the chief judge of Dane County Circuit Court, to appoint a special prosecutor.
It is not the first time that the case has been treated as a hot potato. The Capitol police and Dane County sheriff have also acted to avoid the appearance of a conflict.
Ozanne’s statement noted the district attorney’s office’s “prominent role in the litigation connected to this incident.” The alleged altercation between Justices David Prosser and Ann Walsh Bradley grew out of an argument over the timing of the release of the court’s decision in a ruling that upheld the state’s collective bargaining law. Ozanne had filed the case.
Ozanne, in an interview, confirmed that he received the report from the sheriff’s office last Thursday. He declined to describe it, other than to say that it came to his office “in a binder.” He believes at least two sheriff’s deputies were involved in the investigation.
The report, said Ozanne, arrived without any arrest or recommendation for prosecution. Ozanne says reports from law enforcement agencies commonly do make such requests but he has received other reports that didn’t. He says no conclusions should be drawn from this about whether the case has prosecutorial merit.
Accounts differ as to what transpired during the incident, first reported on June 25 by Wisconsin Public Radio and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. Bradley told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Prosser “put his hands around my neck in anger in a chokehold.” Prosser, in a statement, said the claims against him “will be proven false.” The Journal Sentinel cited unnamed sources who alleged that he was reacting in self-defense as Bradley charged at him.
The Sheriff’s Office launched its probe on June 27, at the request of state Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs. This was also done “to avoid any potential conflict of interest,” according to Dane County Sheriff David Mahoney. He said Capitol police felt there was tension between their duty to provide for the safety and security of the Supreme Court and the need to ask “pointed questions” inherent in “investigating alleged criminal conduct on the part of a Supreme Court justice.”
Mahoney was also accused of having a conflict in the case, since he supported Prosser’s challenger in the spring election. He announced that he would have no role in the investigation.
Bill Lueders is president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. The project, a partnership of the Center and MapLight, is supported by the Open Society Institute.
The nonprofit and nonpartisan Center (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Television, Wisconsin Public Radio and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication and other news media. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.