2nd former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice advises Republican leader against impeachment

By SCOTT BAUER Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A second conservative former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice asked to investigate taking the unprecedented step of impeaching a liberal justice on Wednesday came out against it.

Former Justice Jon Wilcox told The Associated Press that there was nothing to justify impeaching Justice Janet Protasiewicz, as some Republican lawmakers have floated because of comments she made during the campaign about redistricting and donations she accepted from the Wisconsin Democratic Party.

“I do not favor impeachment,” Wilcox told AP in a telephone interview. “Impeachment is something people have been throwing around all the time. But I think it’s for very serious things.”

The Wisconsin Constitution reserves impeachment for “corrupt conduct in office, or for crimes and misdemeanors.”

Wilcox, along with former justices David Prosser and Patience Roggensack, were tapped by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to look into possible impeachment.

Prosser advised against impeachment in an email to Vos on Friday, saying “there should be no effort to impeach Justice Protasiewicz on anything we know now.” Prosser told Vos he did not think Protasiewicz had met the standard for impeachment.

Roggensack has not returned numerous messages seeking comment, including Wednesday. Vos did not respond to a text seeking comment Wednesday.

Vos floated impeaching Protasiewicz if she did not recuse from a redistricting lawsuit seeking to toss GOP-drawn legislative district boundary maps. On Friday, she declined to recuse herself, and the court voted 4-3 along partisan lines to hear the redistricting challenge.

Vos asked three former justices to review the possibility of impeachment, but he refused to name them. Prosser told the AP that he was on the panel, but other justices either said they weren’t on it or did not comment.

In a court filing, Vos identified the other two as Roggensack and Wilcox. All three of those picked by Vos are conservatives. Roggensack served 20 years on the court and her retirement this year created the vacancy that Protasiewicz filled with her election win in April.

Wilcox was on the court from 1992 to 2007 and Prosser served from 1998 to 2016.

A state judiciary disciplinary panel has also rejected several complaints lodged against Protasiewicz that alleged she violated the judicial code of ethics with comments she made during the campaign.

Prosser turned that email over to the liberal watchdog group American Oversight as part of an open records request. The group is also suing, arguing that the panel created by Vos is violating the state open meetings law.

Vos, in his court filing Wednesday, said he never asked the three retired justices to prepare a report or any other written work.

Wilcox said he had no plans to submit a written report. He said he, Prosser and Roggensack met one time and he told them then that he didn’t think impeachment was warranted.

Wilcox said he informed Vos of his opinion within the past two days.

Vos said that his seeking advice from the former justices was no different from any lawmaker meeting privately with someone and is not a violation of the state open meetings law.

“I have never asked them to meet with one another, to discuss any topics, or to conduct any governmental business,” Vos told the court. “I do not know whether the retired justices have or will collaborate with one another, as I have not given them a directive on how they are supposed to research the topic of impeachment.”

Vos raised the threat of impeachment in August just after Protasiewicz joined the court, flipping majority control from conservatives to liberals for the first time in 15 years.

Vos argued that Protasiewicz had prejudged the redistricting case when during her campaign she called the maps “rigged” and “unfair.” Vos also said her acceptance of nearly $10 million from the Wisconsin Democratic Party would unduly influence her ruling.

Protasiewicz on Friday rejected those arguments, noting that other justices have accepted campaign cash and not recused from cases. She also noted that she never promised or pledged to rule on the redistricting lawsuit in any way.

Other justices, both conservative and liberal, have spoken out in the past on issues that could come before the court, although not always during their run for office like Protasiewicz did. Current justices have also accepted campaign cash from political parties and others with an interest in court cases and haven’t recused themselves. But none of them has faced threats of impeachment.

Prosser and Roggensack accepted in-kind donations from the Wisconsin Republican Party when they were on the court. Roggensack also accepted campaign cash from Republican candidate committees and county parties during her last run in 2013.

Roggensack and Prosser voted to enact a rule allowing justices to sit on cases involving campaign donors. In 2017, a year after Prosser left the court, Roggensack voted to reject a call from 54 retired justices and judges to enact stricter recusal rules.

Both Roggensack and Wilcox donated $1,000 each to a Protasiewicz opponent, Waukesha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow. She finished third in the primary behind Protasiewicz and another conservative candidate, Dan Kelly. Wilcox in 2020 gave Kelly $500.

Prosser also donated $500 to Kelly’s campaign this year. Roggensack didn’t give money to Kelly, but she did endorse him after he advanced in the primary.