Wisconsin Prosecutor Adds Legislature as Defendants in Union-Powers Suit

Wisconsin’s Senate and Assembly were added as defendants in a county prosecutor’s lawsuit seeking to quash a state law restricting public employees’ right to engage in collective bargaining.

Dane County Prosecutor Ismael R. Ozanne filed the revised complaint today in state court in Madison, Wisconsin’s capital. He claims legislators violated the state’s open-meetings law when they passed the bill.

Ozanne also added a claim that Secretary of State Doug La Follette, already a defendant in the case, doesn’t have the authority to publish the law -- a step needed to put it into effect -- because the measure is invalid.

Governor Scott Walker signed the challenged legislation on March 11. It requires annual recertification votes for union representation and makes voluntary the payment of union dues. It exempts firefighters and police officers.

Organized labor and Democrats called the bill an attack on workers. Opposition sparked almost four weeks of mass protests at the Capitol.

Bill Cosh, a spokesman for state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, said he couldn’t immediately comment on the revised complaint filed today.

Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi on March 18 issued a temporary restraining order barring La Follette, a Democrat who has held the office for 28 years, from publishing the law.

Appeal Request

Van Hollen, a Republican, has asked a state appellate court for permission to appeal Sumi’s order, arguing Sumi doesn’t have jurisdiction over the dispute or over the secretary of state, who was required by statute to publish the law by March 25, 10 business days after it was signed.

La Follette told Bloomberg News today that he didn’t support Van Hollen’s decision to appeal Sumi’s ruling.

“I would have preferred that they did not appeal,” La Follette said of the attorney general’s office. “They were representing the Republican Legislature and the governor but I am elected independently by the people of Wisconsin and I was very concerned about the Open-Meetings Law violation.”

At the hearing on the temporary restraining order, Sumi denied La Follette’s request that he be allowed to be represented by his own lawyer, Roger Sage.

“I was not happy about what was happening,” La Follette said.“I didn’t have much choice about it.” He is the grand nephew of Robert M. La Follette, the former Wisconsin governor and U.S. senator who in 1924 ran for U.S. President on the Progressive ticket, losing to Republican Calvin Coolidge.

‘Multiple Communications’

Cosh said state Justice Department lawyers had had “multiple communications” with La Follette about the litigation.

“Communications between his attorneys and the Secretary La Follette are privileged. Pursuant to that privilege, we are ethically and legally bound not to disclose the content of those communications,” the spokesman said in an e-mailed statement.

Ozanne didn’t reply to an e-mailed request for comment on La Follette’s statements.

The prosecutor today filed the second of two briefs with the Madison-based Court of Appeals, responding to Van Hollen’s request for permission to appeal.

Open-Meetings Law

The prosecutor yesterday defended Sumi’s authority to bar the law he said was passed in violation of the open-meetings law. In his filing today, Ozanne said the panel should deny Van Hollen’s request for permission, in favor of waiting until after a scheduled March 29 hearing before Sumi on the prosecutor’s request for an injunction.

The Wisconsin Education Council today asked the court for permission to file a friend-of-the-court brief backing Ozanne’s suit and Sumi’s ruling. According to its website, the organization represents about 98,000 public education employees on issues of public policy.

“If the act is not enjoined, public employees will suffer irreparable harm by being subject to a law passed in violation of their constitutional right to open government,” the group said in its proposed brief.

The case is State of Wisconsin Ex Rel. Ozanne v. Fitzgerald, 11cv1244, Dane County, Wisconsin, Circuit Court (Madison). The appellate case is Ozanne v. Fitzgerald, 2011AP613-LV, Wisconsin Court of Appeals, District 4 (Madison).

To contact the reporters on this story: Andrew Harris in Chicago at aharris16@bloomberg.net; Marie Rohde in Milwaukee at fmarierohde@gmail.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David Rovella at drovella@bloomberg.net

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