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

Speaker Vos inquired with Patience Roggensack, Jon Wilcox and David Prosser about potential Protasiewicz impeachment

Stairs lead up to the Wisconsin Supreme Court inside the state capitol building.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Wednesday, June 9, 2021, at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

A second former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice asked to investigate taking the unprecedented step of impeaching a liberal justice came out Wednesday 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.

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Wilcox, along with former justices David Prosser and Patience Roggensack, were tapped by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to look into possible impeachment. Prosser on Friday emailed Vos telling him that he was also against impeachment.

Roggensack has not returned numerous messages seeking comment, including 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.

Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, is seen during a convening of the Assembly
Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, is seen during a convening of the Assembly at the Wisconsin State Capitol on Jan. 25, 2020 in Madison, Wis. Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Watch

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.

Prosser, a former Republican Assembly speaker, sent Vos on email on Friday advising against moving forward with impeachment. That was after a state judiciary disciplinary panel 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. The recommendations of the other two former justices have not been made public.

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.

Janet Protasiewicz holds an attendees hand and points back at him.
Judge Janet Protasiewicz, candidate for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, greets attendees at her election night event Tuesday, April 4, 2023, at Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

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. He announced creation of the panel to investigate impeachment on Sept. 13.

Vos argued that Protasiewicz had prejudged the redistricting case when during her campaign she called the maps “rigged” and “unfair.” Vos also said that 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 have faced threats of impeachment.