April 27, 2016 – Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David T. Prosser, who has served on the court for 18 years, announced today that he is retiring with five years remaining on his term, which ends in 2021. Prosser was re-elected to a 10-year term in 2011.
“It has been a tremendous honor to serve the people of Wisconsin in various capacities for more than 40 years,” Prosser wrote in a letter delivered to Gov. Scott Walker today. “Public service was the career I chose at an early age. That goal has been fulfilled.”
Justice Prosser will end his work on July 31. Under the Wisconsin Constitution, the governor must appoint someone to fill a Wisconsin Supreme Court vacancy.
The appointee, if he or she chooses, must then sit for the first available election. But the Wisconsin Constitution also prohibits two supreme court elections in one year.
With elections scheduled for 2017 (Annette Ziegler), 2018 (Michael Gableman), and 2019 (Shirley Abrahamson), the first open election cannot be held until 2020 for Prosser’s seat.
Chief Justice Patience Roggensack said Prosser’s shoes will be hard to fill. “Justice David T. Prosser is an exceptionally bright and thoughtful jurist whose presence on the Court will be greatly missed,” she said in a press release from the court. “David has brought unique perspectives to Court discussions, thereby increasing the Court's ability to understand difficult problems presented to us for resolution.”
State Bar of Wisconsin President Ralph Cagle said Justice Prosser is a “man of great wit and character” and “brought to the court a high level of civic-minded expertise that was best exemplified in his thoughtful approach to drafting opinions and engaging his colleagues around the table in challenging discussion, never overlooking the plight of the public and all citizens’ ability to access the legal system.”
“On behalf of the State Bar, I want to express my appreciation for all the important work Justice Prosser has done to advance and enhance the legal profession during his 18 years on the bench,” Cagle said.
Almost four Decades of Public Service
Gov. Tommy Thompson appointed Justice Prosser to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1998 to fill a vacancy left by then-Justice Janine Geske, who served from 1993 to 1998. Prosser went on to win election to the court in 2001, and reelection in 2011.
Before his time on the supreme court, Prosser was a representative in the State Assembly for 18 years, serving nine terms from 1978 to 1996, including two years as Assembly Speaker and six years as Minority Leader. He was then appointed to the Wisconsin Tax Appeals Commission, serving two years before his promotion to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
A graduate of Appleton High School, Justice Prosser attended DePauw University in Indiana and graduated from U.W. Law School in 1968.
He started his career as an attorney-advisor for the U.S. Department of Justice, then joined U.S. Congressman Harold Froehlich, of Wisconsin, as an administrative assistant for two years before returning to Wisconsin. Froehlich was a member of the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate impeachment hearings.
Justice Prosser also served as a district attorney in Outagamie County (1977-78) before his election to the Wisconsin Assembly, representing Appleton. Prosser also served on various commissions and committees that helped advance the legal profession.
“Throughout his career, Justice Prosser gave back to the profession by devoting his time to building up new generations of lawyers and encouraging the next generation of leaders to set high standards and lofty goals,” Cagle said.
“Justice Prosser took his own advice to heart, setting high standards for the court and fellow members of the legal community. As his colleagues and friends, we wish Justice Prosser much success and happiness in his retirement.”