• WisPolitics

Friday, March 22, 2013

 8:53 PM 

Roggensack pledges action on court altercation; Fallone slams her for recusal

Justice Pat Roggensack said Friday she will urge the Supreme Court to address a physical altercation between two of her colleagues once her re-election campaign is over, saying the court needs to address the damage done to its reputation.

Roggensack made the pledge following criticism from challenger Ed Fallone for recusing herself from the discipline case filed against Justice David Prosser after the altercation with Justice Ann Walsh Bradley. The decision by Roggensack and other justices to step off the case has left it without a resolution.

Fallone, a Marquette Law School professor, slammed Roggensack during a debate at the Wisconsin State Bar for Prosser’s discipline case remaining unresolved. He pledged if elected that he would seek to get the case back on track.

“That’s when people begin to question, is there a different rule for Supreme Court justices, or is everyone accountable for their actions in the state of Wisconsin?” Fallone asked.

Roggensack shot back that Fallone is “a bit confused about the process,” saying she saw the altercation between her colleagues and as a material witness, she cannot participate in the case.

What’s more, she said she physically separated the two and “held onto Justice Bradley until she calmed down.”

“I am not an unbiased judge,” Roggensack said in reference to the case. “I perhaps hold myself to a higher standard than he would.”

Still, Roggensack said the justices need to address the issue and the injury it caused to the court’s reputation. She said she started the process last summer, but ran out of time between the court’s workload and her re-election campaign. Roggensack has previously urged her colleagues to collectively apologize for the incident and condemn the behavior as inappropriate.

The two then bickered over the standards for recusal in a judicial discipline case. Roggensack said it made no sense for her to participate in a decision whether to refer the Judicial Commission charges against Prosser to a three-judge panel to recommend what punishment -- if any -- he should face, because the case would only come back to the Supreme Court for a final decision. Enough judges have recused themselves from the case to leave the seven-member court without a quorum to issue a final decision, meaning it could not act on any recommendation from the panel.

“I will not do that to anyone,” she said of sitting on the Prosser case because of her personal connection to it. “Everyone deserves a fair and impartial judge.”

Fallone countered, “Everyone deserves the same procedures to apply to everyone.”

The We The People/Wisconsin debate played out like most of the joint appearances for the two candidates. Fallone repeatedly charged the court is dysfunctional, with bickering factions that have hampered its ability to work together and its productivity. Roggensack insisted the race was about experience and dismissed Fallone’s characterization of the court, saying she wouldn’t be running for another 10-year term if it was as bad as he made it out to be.

Fallone insisted his time as a law professor gave him a breadth of experience that was needed on the court and argued the presence of a new justice could help soothe the tensions that have plagued it.

“We need to address the dysfunction. We need to move the court forward,” he said.

Roggensack countered the court is not up for re-election, she is. She also argued Fallone’s continued attacks on the court only inflict further injury to its reputation and accused him of running a negative campaign.

The two also traded barbs over a Supreme Court rule on campaign contributions and recusals from cases over the donations.

Fallone said a court rule Roggensack supported changed the standard so acceptance of a campaign contribution was not enough to force a judge off a case, regardless of its size.

He said when someone loses a case and finds out afterward that a party on the other side had donated to a judge, it shakes their faith that they were treated fairly. He pledged to support returning to the prior standard.

“It was never a question of a $5 contribution,” he said. “It was a question of what about the $5,000 contribution.”

Roggensack countered Fallone has a misperception of the rule and that simply receiving a lawful contribution by itself was not sufficient grounds to force a judge from a case. She also said she has taken great pains in this campaign to track donations and note every party and lawyer that has been before the court.

Roggensack accused Fallone of changing his position on donations to justices, quoting an interview he did with WisconsinEye.

Fallone said he believed the question was about whether justices themselves should make decisions on their own recusals and his answer pertained to the court’s position that other justices could not force a colleague off a case.

Roggensack read a transcript of the exchange in which the question was directly related to contributions and recusal, suggesting Fallone’s position was one of political expediency.

“I do think his position is a bit different tonight,” she said.

We The People/Wisconsin is a multi-media partnership that includes the Wisconsin State Journal, WISC-TV, WisPolitics.com and Wood Communications. The debate will air on TV on Sunday.

-- By JR Ross

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