A Wisconsin county official was ruled ineligible to sue to block a state law stripping government employee unions of most of their collective bargaining power.
Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and County Board Chairman Scott McDonell lack standing to challenge the law on constitutional grounds in their official capacities, Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi ruled yesterday. Falk and McDonell may be able to sue as individuals, Sumi said.
“Under longstanding Wisconsin law, an agency or arm of government lacks authority to challenge the constitutionality of state statues,” Sumi wrote in her opinion.
Falk’s lawsuit was one of three filed seeking to block legislation signed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, on March 11. The bill requires annual recertification votes for union representation by public employees and makes payment of union dues voluntary. Firefighters and police officers are exempt.
“We haven’t decided if we will sue as citizens,” McDonell said in a phone interview. “Someone needs to represent the taxpayers of Wisconsin in this matter.”
Falk didn’t immediately return phone calls seeking comment.
Democrats and organized labor opposed the legislation as an attack on worker rights. Opposition sparked almost four weeks of protests around and inside the state capitol.
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne last month sued four Republican lawmakers, alleging they violated the state’s open meetings law when they crafted the legislation. Sumi temporarily barred the law from taking effect. State Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen petitioned the Supreme Court to dismiss Ozanne’s complaint.
In her opinion yesterday, Sumi wrote that Ozanne has “explicit statutory authority” to enforce alleged open meetings law violations. Dane County doesn’t, she said.
“We’re pleased that Judge Sumi reached the right result on this motion,” Bill Cosh, a spokesman for Van Hollen, said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “We will continue our efforts to defend this lawsuit and believe that we will ultimately be successful.”
The case is Dane County v. State of Wisconsin, 11-cv-01175, Dane County, Wisconsin, Circuit Court (Madison). The prosecutor’s case is State of Wisconsin Ex Rel. Ozanne v. Fitzgerald, 11-cv-1244, Dane County, Wisconsin, Circuit Court (Madison).