Wisconsin State Supreme Court Justice David Prosser is defending his decision to join the decision to end a controversial John Doe investigation, which had been looking into possible illegal coordination between Governor Scott Walker’s 2012 recall election campaign and conservative groups.
Prosser was among the 4-2 majority which halted the probe earlier this month. He’s faced criticism, and was even asked to recuse himself from the case by the special prosecutor, because he benefitted from millions of dollars during his 2011 reelection campaign, which came from some of the targets of the John Doe.
A similar recusal request was made of Justice Michael Gableman, who has not released a response.
In letter dated July 29, Prosser laid out the reasoning behind his decision to stay on the case, noting that Supreme Court rules do not require him to step down just because of ties to defendants. Prosser wrote, “The rules are grounded in the reality that the law must permit contributions from people and entities who may have cases before the court because some attorneys and some entities are nearly always before the court.”
Prosser also noted the circumstances surrounding his highly contentious reelection campaign, which came right after the massive debate over Governor Walker’s collective bargaining legislation and was seen by many as a referendum on that policy.
Prosser faced a challenge from JoAnne Kloppenburg, in a race that ultimately resulted in a statewide recount. Millions of dollars were spent on outside ads benefitting both candidates, and Prosser points out that a decision to take public financing limited his own ability to respond. “While it can be argued that independent communications supporting my campaign were “significant and disproportionate,” there was no alternative under Wisconsin law for people who believed I had done a good job and wanted me to continue,” he wrote.
Prosser’s defense is itself drawing criticism. Matt Rothschild of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign called it a “pathetic” defense, and noted that Prosser even provided more evidence to support the arguments for why he should have stepped away from the case. Rothschild wrote “Justice Prosser’s letter is long on self-pity and self-justification but short on propriety and legal reasoning. It’s an embarrassment upon an embarrassment.”