Attorney general will appeal ruling that blocks anti-union bill

2011-03-18T12:47:00Z 2011-07-05T18:09:33Z Attorney general will appeal ruling that blocks anti-union billJESSICA VANEGEREN, JUDITH DAVIDOFF and CHRIS MURPHY | The Capital Times madison.com

The state Attorney's General Office will appeal the temporary restraining order placed on Gov. Scott Walker's collective bargaining bill by a circuit court judge Friday morning.

Assistant Attorney General Steven Means said after the ruling that he planned to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals Friday afternoon or early next week.

Because Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi's ruling was a "non-final order," Means said he will need to petition the court for permission to file an appeal.

The court would likely then ask the District Attorney's Office to respond to the petition, Means said.

If the Appeals Court takes the case, Means said he would ask for an expedited decision from the court.

Madison attorney Robert Dreps, an expert on open government and First Amendment law, said it is likely that the Appeals Court would choose to hear the case because the bill affects so many people; many municipalities and school districts, for example, are rushing to negotiate with unions right now to get new labor agreements in place before the law goes into effect.

Sumi ruled Friday morning that a legislative committee likely violated the state's open meetings law when it rushed to vote and approve an amended version of Walker's budget repair bill on March 9.

The bill eliminates nearly all collective bargaining rights for most public employees and sets the stage for the Department of Health Services to revamp Medicaid without legislative approval.

"Some may wonder how something as minor as failure to (properly) notify the public really stops this bill in its tracks. My answer is, it's not minor," Sumi said.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, was the only Democratic lawmaker present at the March 9 joint conference committee meeting, which was the subject of the lawsuit.

At the start of the meeting, Barca immediately stood up and screamed at his Republican colleagues that they were in violation of the state's open meetings law.

"We felt very strongly all along that what they did was a clear violation of the law," said Barca to a crowd of reporters following Sumi's ruling.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday by Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne after he received complaints over the meeting from acting Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and others.

Ozanne said in a brief interview Friday morning that these verified complaints allowed his office to investigate whether the open meetings law had been violated.

"We did an investigation and then proceeded with the filing after the investigation," he said.

In the short-term, Sumi's ruling prevents Secretary of State Doug La Follette from publishing the law. La Follette had said he planned to do so, pending legal delays, on March 25. That means the law would have become effective on March 26.

Regardless of what happens with the appeal, it appears that the Republican-controlled Legislature could move forward with action on the bill despite the temporary injunction.

In answer to a question from Assistant District Attorney Maria Lazar, Sumi clarified that her ruling does not prevent lawmakers from giving proper public notice and reconvening the joint conference committee meeting.

But it is unclear what steps Republican lawmakers would need to take to initiate another vote on the measure.

Walker did not address the issue in a news release: "This legislation is still working through the legal process," the governor said. "We are confident the provisions of the budget repair bill will become law in the near future."

Two of the Legislature's top-ranking Republicans called Sumi's Friday morning ruling an "overreach."

"Dane County always seems to play by its own rules, but this morning we saw a Dane County judge try to rewrite the constitutional separation of powers," said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and his brother Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, in a joint statement. "We fully expect an appeals court will find the Legislature followed the law perfectly and will likely find that Friday's ruling was a significant overreach."

In a news release issued after Sumi's ruling, Falk praised Ozanne for taking the matter to court.

"Congratulations to Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne for a great first victory on behalf of Wisconsin's citizens," she said. "The district attorney is right and courageous to protect the rule of law, respect for citizens, the need for open, honest government from a governor and Republican legislators who have trampled those values."

Copyright 2014 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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