May 26. 2011 2:00AM - Last modified: March 14. 2012 1:20PM

Judge overturns Walker’s collective bargaining law

  

Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi today overturned Gov. Scott Walker's collective bargaining bill, finding lawmakers violated the state's open meetings law in rushing the legislation through at the height of the Capitol protests.

Sumi's ruling found collective bargaining bill null and void, finding lawmakers violated the state's open meetings law in rushing the legislation through with less than two hours notice.

The State Constitution requires 24 hours notice.

Sumi ruled the evidence was "clear and convincing" that a conference committee failed to comply with the law in a hastily called meeting in March to push through legislation containing the collective bargaining changes. Sumi also noted that lawmakers had the opportunity to correct the violation and eliminate the case entirely by simply providing timely notice of a new committee meeting and passing the legislation again.

GOP legislative leaders have said doing so would be an admission they did something wrong, which they have steadfastly contended they did not.

However, Sumi disagreed, saying that doing so would not have been an admission of guilt and could have "prevented the needless expenditure of taxpayer money to continue this lawsuit."

Sumi wrote: "This case is the exemplar of values protected by the Open Meetings Law: transparency in government, the right of citizens to participate in their government, and respect for the rule of law. It is not the court's business to determine whether 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 is good public policy or bad public policy; that is the business of the Legislature. It is this court's responsibility, however, to apply the rule of law to the facts before it."

GOP legislative leaders named in Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne's complaint have claimed legislative immunity in the case. Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch has appealed Sumi's previous restraining order that has held up the changes from taking effect.

The state Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments on that filing for early next month.

Huebsch and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) said they would look to the state Supreme Court to overrule Sumi's decision.

"We look forward to the reforms of the budget repair bill being enacted in the near future," Huebsch said in a statement. "We will continue to pursue legal action with the Supreme Court in an effort to protect middle class jobs and middle class taxpayers."

Fitzgerald said the bill "was passed and signed into law in accordance with the rules of the state legislature … I remain confident that the Wisconsin State Supreme Court will rule accordingly and Act 10 will become law."

Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate said, "Today, Wisconsin was given further proof, from a judge appointed by Tommy Thompson, that Scott Walker and the Fitzgerald brothers treated the rule of law with contempt in their illegal and divisive overreach. The decision should be looked at as an opportunity to work together to find commonsense solutions to grow our economy and get our fiscal house in order - not to tear our state apart, as Walker and his lockstep Legislature have chosen to do."

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha), who loudly protested the conference committee's action as it happened, issued the following statement today: "This decision also affirms that the people of Wisconsin have the right to be at table in their democracy and the Legislature and the Republicans are not above their obligation to open government. Gov. Walker cost the taxpayers by refusing to respectfully sit across the table from his employees, look them in the eye and take yes for an answer on the benefit concessions they offered. We hope the Legislative Republicans will rethink their plan to betray the people of Wisconsin by taking away workers' rights and hurting Wisconsin's middle-class. Today's decision by Judge Sumi restores Wisconsin's long tradition of open government. This ruling sets an important precedent that when the Legislature meets, the people must have a seat at the table. This is a huge victory for Wisconsin democracy."

To view the ruling, click here. For ongoing coverage, visit WisPolitics.com, a media partner of BizTimes.


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