Wisconsin high court mired in division

July 12, 2011 at 5:47 PM
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MADISON, Wis., July 12 (UPI) -- The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 4-3 Tuesday its justices can't kick others off cases for alleged bias.

The close ruling provoked a new round of critical opinions about fellow justices, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, with dissenters saying Justice Patience Roggensack should not have supplied the deciding vote in a ruling on whether ethics required her to withdraw from the case.

The newspaper said the state high court has fought in recent years over when its members must remove themselves to avoid the appearance of conflict or impropriety. But Tuesday's decision was the first to say a court majority could not force a justice to remove himself or herself from a case.

The majority opinion said only a justice gets to decide whether to stay on a case if accused of bias. "A majority of this court does not have the power to disqualify a judicial peer from performing the constitutional functions of a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice on a case-by-case basis," the ruling states.

The opinion was "per curiam," or unsigned, but was written by Roggensack and Justices David Prosser, Michael Gableman and Annette Ziegler, the Journal Sentinel said.

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and N. Patrick Crooks dissented.

The newspaper said the state high court has been split along ideological lines and personal disagreements since 2008, but tensions became especially sharp last month when Bradley accused Prosser of putting her "in a chokehold" as they argued about a case over collective bargaining by state employees.

Bradley's allegation is being investigated by the Dane County Sheriff's Office and the Wisconsin Judicial Commission. The commission administers the state ethics code for judges.

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