Justice N. Patrick Crooks In the continuing controversy over the spat between State Supreme Court justices David Prosser and Ann Walsh Bradley, the role of N. Patrick Crooks may be the most fascinating: He is easily the most misunderstood member of the court. In my last column, I wrote that Crooks is “considered one […]

Justice N. Patrick Crooks

In the continuing controversy over the spat between State Supreme Court justices David Prosser and Ann Walsh Bradley, the role of N. Patrick Crooks may be the most fascinating: He is easily the most misunderstood member of the court.

In my last column, I wrote that Crooks is “considered one of the court’s liberals.” That was misleading. Yes, he is considered a liberal and is typically described that way in the media, but in fact, he’s a centrist who tends to lean right. The media’s error has misled people about the court’s makeup and warped the coverage of the Prosser/Bradley confrontation.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has routinely described the court as being split 4 to 3 on most issues, with Crooks siding with liberals Bradley and Shirley Abrahamson. In fact, the court most commonly has a 5-2 majority, with Crooks joining the court’s four conservatives. 

As a story in the Wisconsin Law Journal concluded, “when it comes to actually deciding cases… it is more accurate to say the court is divided 5-2, with only Abrahamson and Bradley in the minority.”

In fact, the WLJ found Crooks was second only to Justice Annette Ziegler when it came to joining the majority in 2009-2010 year, with Ziegler voting that way 91 percent of the time and Crooks going that way 88 percent of the time. (Prosser voted with the majority 86 percent of the time.)

Nor is this an anomaly. The WLJ just completed its analysis of the 2010-11 term (the story is not available online) and found Crooks voted with the majority 91 percent of the time, just below Prosser (93 percent) and Ziegler, Patience Drake Roggensack and Michael Gableman (all at 95 percent of the time).

By contrast, Bradley voted with the majority 57 percent of the time and Abrahamson 52 percent of the time.

In short, Crooks’ voting record is far removed from that of Bradley and Abrahamson; in fact Crooks and Prosser have identical records over the last two years: Both voted with the majority 89.5 percent of the time.

Yet the media keeps insisting Crooks is politically aligned with the liberals. Just as I did, reporter Dee Hall of the Wisconsin State Journal wrote that Crooks is “considered part of the liberal bloc.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog observed that “the court is split between four justices who lean to the right and three who lean to the left.”

The tone for this was set by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which has reported that “the three justices in the minority have had… serious problems with Prosser—a member of the court’s four-person conservative majority. And the JS has editorialized about “a court deeply divided along ideological lines…Abrahamson and Bradley are among the members of the liberal wing.” (In both cases Crooks is by implication placed in the liberal minority.)

Blogger Ann Althouse writes that “Crooks…votes in a bloc with Chief Justice Abrahamson and Justice Bradley.” (Althouse, of course, has been all wet on the entire controversy, but she is, after all, a law professor. Yet even she has been wrongly sold on the idea that Crooks is a member of this mythical, three-person liberal minority.)

The division of the court into a 4-3 majority, of course, makes both sides suspect in their descriptions of Prosser’s behavior, with Crooks seen as pro-Bradley. But if anything, Crooks’ record over the last two years would make him pro-Prosser, which makes the fact that he had the most negative comments about Prosser’s personal style all the more damning. Crooks told investigators that Prosser’s blow-ups go back more than a decade, and that Bradley and Crooks met with the court’s human resources officer as well as the Director of State Courts A. John Voelker back in February “because they felt there was an escalation” in Prosser’s aggression.

One final note: Crooks was more likely to vote with the liberals back when Justice Louis Butler (2004-2008) served on the court but tended to lean to the right in the years before this. And he was part of a bloc of four justices that bitterly challenged Abrahamson’s leadership in 1999. Crooks, in short, is quite unpredictable and has been allied over the years with both liberals and conservatives, which would seem to make him the least likely to be infected by ideology in how he describes Prosser’s personal behavior.

Targeting Tommy Thompson

No one did more to build the modern Republican Party in Wisconsin than Tommy Thompson. But his pro-government, big-spending style, and his (somewhat hedged) words of support for the Affordable Health Care Act passed by Congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama has made Thompson persona non grata among hardcore conservatives. Thus the right-wing Club for Growth is running TV ads slamming Thompson in an attempt to kill him even before he officially enters the race to succeed Democratic U.S. Senator Herb Kohl, who will retire at the end of his current term.

The situation speaks volumes about the continuing attempt of many conservatives to ideologically cleanse the GOP of “RINOs,” Republicans in Name Only, those considered too moderate.

It also puts an interesting spotlight on Mark Neumann, who is likely to oppose Thompson in the Republican primary. Neumann ran in the Republican primary for governor against Scott Walker and gave hints he would go after Walker as a representative of Milwaukee’s urban problems (Milwaukee is typically not popular with outstate voters), but Neumann ultimately chose not to go negative against Walker.

Now he faces a similar situation and may be more willing to go for the jugular. Talking Points claims that some former aides of Neumann now work the Club for Growth. And Isthmus reporter Judith Davidoff interviewed a Club for Growth representative, who refused to answer whether Neumann had any connection to the ads.

Certainly the ads help Neumann’s cause. The irony is that Neumann himself doesn’t quite fit the conservative mold, in that he’s a fervent environmentalist who campaigned that way when he ran for governor. A Green Republican? Someone should alert the Club for Growth.

The Buzz

-In the blog posting by Ann Althouse I linked to earlier, she seems to back off a bit on her preposterous charge that Bill Lueders, who broke the Prosser/Bradley story, is “evil” or “stupid.” While still insisting (but never proving) that Lueders is a “politically partisan journalist,” she allows that Lueders may have received his information “in that inadequate form,” and goes on to blame Justice Bradley for leaking the story.  “Why would you damage the reputation of the court like that instead of working on resolving the problems quietly internally?”

Earth to Althouse: Bradley and Crooks did attempt to deal with Prosser’s blow-ups internally, meeting with both the court’s human resources director and the director of state courts. That didn’t accomplish anything, perhaps because Prosser seems unwilling (to judge by his public statements) to acknowledge any problems with how he relates to colleagues.

-I neglected last week to mention that another blogger and law professor, Rick Esenberg, also criticized Lueder’s article, calling it “an embarrassingly bad piece of work.” And that would be because?… Well actually, Esenberg offered no reason whatsoever. I had always assumed the strength of lawyers was their ability to marshal logic, facts and analysis. Esenberg and Althouse were unable to marshal even one of the three.

-I should also note that Lueders wrote his story in conjunction with a trio of reporters from Wisconsin Public Radio, Gilman N. Halsted, Teresa Shipley and Brian Bull, who teamed up with Lueders and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. For my money the center has been doing some good articles, covering issues that are sometimes overlooked by the mainstream media. In an age of increasingly concentrated media, we need all the alternative outlets we can get. 

-It turns out the Journal Sentinel newsroom will have to shed more employees. Pressroom Buzz reports.