Battle over Union Power in WI Shifts to Courts

Battle over Union Power in WI Shifts to Courts

Days after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed the bill that had cast Madison into a state of chaos for weeks, the battle over public employee union power shifted to the state's courts. And the workers won the first skirmish, when Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi issued a temporary restraining order March 18 barring Secretary of State Doug La Follette from publishing the law - and thereby allowing it to take effect - until she rules on an injunction filed against the law by Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne. 
 
Ozanne, a Democrat, filed that complaint because he and other Democrats believe the Republican-led legislative committee that approved the bill on March 9, allowing the Legislature to quickly pass it, violated the state's open records law by, among other things, failing to provide adequate notice of the meeting. 
 
In issuing her order against the law, Sumi, appointed to the bench in 1998 by Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, indicated she was inclined to rule in Ozanne's favor. 
 
"The public policy behind effective enforcement of the open meetings law is so strong that it does outweigh the interest, at least at this time, which may exist in favor of sustaining the validity of the (collective bargaining law)," she said, adding: "We in Wisconsin own our government.... We own it in that we are entitled by law to free and open access to governmental meetings, and especially governmental meetings that lead to the resolution of very highly conflicted and controversial matters." 
 
The state's Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican, strongly disagreed. 
 
"The Legislature and the governor, not a single Dane County Circuit Court judge, are responsible for the enactment of laws," he said in a statement. "Decisions of the Supreme Court have made it clear that judges may not enjoin the secretary of state from publishing an act.... Decisions of the Supreme Court are equally clear that acts may not be enjoined where the claim is that a rule of legislative procedure, even one as important as the open meetings law, has been violated." 
 
The state Appeals Court to which the Republicans promptly appealed the decision agreed with both sides, citing two previous state Supreme Court decisions that supported Sumi's ruling and two others that favored Van Hollen's position. Because of the conflicting precedents, the appeals panel recommended that the Supreme Court take up the case. 
 
While everyone was waiting for the high court's response and for court hearings to begin in the Dane County case, the stunning news came that the state's nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau had published the budget-repair law at the center of the controversy. 
 
Stephen Miller, director of the LRB said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) had asked him to publish the law and since the LRB had not been named in Sumi's restraining order and state law required the agency to publish laws within 10 days of being signed by the governor, he agreed. 
 
Walker's top cabinet official, Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch, issued a brief statement March 25th reacting to the news. 
 
"Today the administration was notified that the LRB published the budget-repair bill as required by law," the statement said. "The administration will carry out the law as required." 
 
Sumi expressed her displeasure at the apparent defiance of her order last week, at the end of a day of testimony in the open meetings case. 
 
"Apparently that language was either misunderstood or ignored, but what I said was, 'the further implementation of 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 is enjoined,' " she said, adding: "Now that I've made my earlier order as clear as it possibly can be, I must state that those who act in open and willful defiance of the court order place not only themselves at peril of sanctions, they also jeopardize the financial and the governmental stability of the state of Wisconsin." 
 
Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller (D) seconded the critical view of the Republicans. 
 
"They seem incapable of hearing people who say they are wrong," he said. 
 
But Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R) seemed disinclined to begin listening. 
 
"It's disappointing that a Dane County judge wants to keep interjecting herself into the legislative process with no regard to the state constitution," he said. "Her action today again flies in the face of the separation of powers between the three branches of government." 
 
Sure enough, days later state officials were still working on implementing the health insurance premium and retirement contribution increases, restrictions on collective bargaining and cancellation of automatic union dues collection mandated by the budget-repair law, despite Judge Sumi's threat of sanctions. 
 
"It is my duty to administer that law," said DOA Secretary Huebsch. 
 
He maintained it was still not clear whether Sumi's order was binding on the DOA, which, like the LRB, was not named in the open meetings lawsuit. 
 
"It is unclear how she can issue an order binding non-parties to a case who have not had their day in court," he said. 
 
He added that the DOA would "continue to monitor court proceedings" and work with legal counsel to determine its proper course of action. (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL-SENTINEL, WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL [MADISON]) 

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