No Perp Walk for Wisconsin Judge

Judge Won’t Face Criminal Charges

A difference of opinion.

That’s the conclusion of an investigation into a charge by  Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley that fellow Justice  David Prosser put a chokehold on her when she told him to leave her office after a heated discussion.

Therefore, Justice Prosser will not face criminal charges.

“I believe a complete review of the report suggests there is a difference of opinion,” said Patricia Barrett, the Republican district attorney who served as  special prosecutor in the case.

Touched her neck

Justice Walsh Bradley, a Democrat, accused Justice Prosser, a former Republican legislator, of choking her in June  during a heated discussion on a legal challenge to the Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s contentious collective bargaining law, which strips most public workers of nearly all their union rights.  The incident occurred the night before the court released an opinion upholding the law.

The Milwaukee Sentinal reported that Justice Prosser acknowledged to detectives that he touched Justice Walsh Bradley’s neck – even feeling its warmth.

According to the  New York Times,  Justice Walsh Bradley issued a statement saying she was never focused on prosecuting her colleague and only wanted to address 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.”

Earlier, Justice Walsh Bradley told  The Milwaukee Sentinel: “The facts are that I was demanding that he get out of my office and he put his hands around my neck in anger in a chokehold.”  Bradley said she  asked Prosser to leave after he made allegedly disparaging remarks about Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson.

Justice Walsh Bradley is generally seen as part of the court’s three-justice liberal minority. Justice Prosser, a former Republican legislator, is considered part of the four-justice conservative majority.

Bradley said it was not the first time Prosser had flashes of extreme anger;  “It’s been going on for years off and on.”

The Wisconsin Judicial Commission, which oversees the state’s ethics code for judges, is separately investigating the case.

Wisconsin law protects judges

Interestingly, Wisconsin has a special criminal statute that relates to a battery or threat against a judge. It states:

940.203 Battery or threat to judge …
(2) Whoever intentionally causes bodily harm or threatens to
cause bodily harm to the person or family member of any judge
under all of the following circumstances is guilty of a Class H felony:
(a) At the time of the act or threat, the actor knows or should
have known that the victim is a judge or a member of his or her
(b) The judge is acting in an official capacity at the time of the
act or threat or the act or threat is in response to any action taken
in an official capacity.
(c) There is no consent by the person harmed or threatened.

“Bodily harm” means physical pain or injury, illness, or any impairment of physical condition.

The penalty for a  Class H felonyis a fine not to exceed $10,000 or imprisonment not to exceed 6 years, or both.

Other Approaches to Workplace Bullying?

So far, efforts to combat bullying in the American workplace largely have centered on a campaign spurred by the Workplace Bully Institute to pass anti-bullying legislation on a state-by-state basis.  To date, the effort has yet to yield a single success (defined as a state that has adopted such legislation).

What would happen if workplace anti-bully advocates took a different approach?

One idea might be federal legislation to amend Title VII, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to  permit any worker to sue if subjected to a hostile workplace environment.

Another idea is to approach the problem as an important public  health issue  –  which it is – and adopt health and safety regulations to protect employees on that basis. Finally, one might think local – push cities and towns to adopt legislation to protect employees from workplace abuse.

Advocates for anti-obesity measures took the local approach, with some initial success.  However, industry groups are now finding a way to halt local initiatives, using stealth tactics to erect statewide road blocks.

Public health advocates persuaded some progressive cities and counties around the nation to pass anti-obesity measures, such as requiring restaurants to list fat and calorie content on their menus or to prepare food without unhealthy trans-fats.  The New York Times reported June 30, 2011 that  industry groups are acting pro-actively to quash these anti-obesity efforts. and they are using stealth tactics.

The Times notes that Ohio’s 5,000-page state budget contained sweeping limitations on local government control over restaurants.  Florida  adopted similar limits, tucked into a bill that largely concerned amendments to state regulations on vacation rentals. Other states with limits include Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Utah. Earlier this year, Arizona prohibited local governments from forbidding the marketing of fast food using “consumer incentives” like toys.

Not surprisingly, state restaurant groups are leading the charge for the preemptive state legislation.   State legislators who sponsored preemptive legislation in Florida and Alabama say they were contacted by their state’s restaurant associations, which expressed concern that California’s latest food rules would be adopted by their own local governments.

The Los Angeles City Council has banned fast food restaurants in South Los Angeles, where rates of poverty and obesity are high. In April, the Santa Clara County supervisors adopted a policy that forbids fast food restaurants from selling meals with toys, like those connected with movie promotions.

The Ohio law gives the state’s director of agriculture “sole and exclusive” authority to regulate the use of consumer incentives in food marketing and prohibits localities from requiring menu labeling and using incentives and laws to address “food-based health disparities.”  The statute may nullify a law passed by the Cleveland council in April that banned restaurants and food makers from using “industrially produced” trans fats in products.

One of the fundamental concepts of the U.S. Constitution involves the importance of state’s rights – the idea  is that real change and progress comes from experimentation among the states and not through a federal bureaucracy. It doesn’t take a PhD. to see that this concept also is relevant to states, which tend to  adopt progressive statewide legislation in response to local initiatives.   I’d rather be guided by the framers of our U.S. Constitution than self-interested industry groups. Wouldn’t you?

The state-by-state campaign to adopt workplace anti-bully legislation began in 2003 in California and has encountered steady opposition from business groups, who apparently are largely ignorant about the enormous toll bullying exacts on the employer’s bottom line.   This, despite the fact that the Workplace Bullying Institute is pushing a proposed Healthy Workplace Bill that is considerably weaker than legislation adopted in other industrialized countries around the world. American workers deserve strong protection from bullying in the workplace, which causes health problems and destroys lives and families.

* The new state laws limiting public health measures will have no effect on a federal law that requires menu labeling by chains with 20 or more restaurants by 2013. But more than half of the nation’s restaurants will not be required to meet the federal rules for listing calories and fat content.