By Associated Press - Thursday, August 25, 2011

MADISON, Wis. (AP) Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser won’t face criminal charges over accusations that he choked a liberal colleague, a prosecutor said Thursday.

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley accused Justice Prosser of choking her in June as the justices deliberated on a legal challenge to the contentious collective-bargaining law of Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, that strips most public workers of nearly all their union rights. Justice Prosser has denied the charges.

Sauk County District Attorney Patricia Barrett, a special prosecutor in the case, said she has reviewed investigators’ reports and decided that there is no basis to file charges against either Justice Walsh Bradley or Justice Prosser. She told the Associated Press that accounts from other justices who witnessed the apparent altercation varied, but she declined to elaborate.

“I believe a complete review of the report suggests there is a difference of opinion,” said Ms. Barrett, a Republican. “There are a variety of statements about what occurred. … [T]he totality of what did happen does not support criminal charges against either Justice Bradley or Justice Prosser.”

The Dane County Sheriff’s Department, which conducted the investigation, has not released the reports.

Justice Walsh Bradley, 61, is generally seen as part of the court’s three-justice liberal minority. Justice Prosser, a 68-year-old former Republican legislator, is considered part of the four-justice conservative majority. The factions have been feuding openly for years.

Tensions were running especially high as the justices deliberated over Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne’s legal challenge to Mr. Walker’s union law. Mr. Ozanne said Republican lawmakers violated the state’s open-meetings law during debate on the measure.

Justice Walsh Bradley has accused Justice Prosser of choking her the night before the court released an opinion upholding the law.

The charging decision initially fell to Mr. Ozanne because Justice Walsh Bradley said the altercation took place in the state Capitol in Madison, the Dane County seat.

Mr. Ozanne, a Democrat, asked a judge to appoint a special prosecutor in his place, saying he wanted to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest since Justice Prosser upheld the union law. Dane County Chief Judge. C. William Foust tapped Ms. Barrett.

Justice Prosser issued a statement titled, in capital letters, “Justice Prosser Cleared,” saying he always knew he would be exonerated and accusing Justice Walsh Bradley of sensationalizing the incident.

“I am gratified that the prosecutor found these scurrilous charges were without merit,” Justice Prosser said. “I look forward to the details of this investigation becoming public record.”

Justice Walsh Bradley issued her own statement saying she was never focused on prosecuting Justice Prosser and wanted only 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.”

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