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Wisconsin Prosecutor Asks State Court to Void Union Law Ruling

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Dec. 31 (Bloomberg) -- A Wisconsin prosecutor said the state’s highest court should throw out its June ruling upholding legislation curbing public employees’ collective-bargaining rights because one justice failed to recuse himself from the case.

Ismael Ozanne, district attorney in Dane County, which includes Madison, the state capital, alleged in court filings yesterday that Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman received free legal work in an ethics case from a law firm, Michael Best & Friedrich, that assisted state officials in the union law case.

The “unusual” fee arrangement wasn’t disclosed at the time, and Gableman should have recused himself from the case, Ozanne said in filings. He should be disqualified from the case and the high court’s 4-3 decision in June upholding the law should be thrown out, Ozanne said in documents filed with the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

“Abraham Lincoln wrote that ‘a lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade,’” Ozanne, a Democrat, said in the filing. “Justice Gableman paid for none of that time or any of that advice, nor does it appear he or MBF intended to do so. Reasonable, well-informed people would reasonably question Justice Gableman’s ability to be impartial under the facts presented here.”

A call to Gableman about the filing wasn’t immediately returned yesterday. Attorney Eric McLeod of Michael Best & Friedrich didn’t immediately return a voice-mail message seeking comment about the filing.

Exceeded Her Authority

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in June that Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi exceeded her authority when she issued a May 26 order invalidating the measure after she had found it was created in apparent violation of the state’s open meetings law.

The legislation signed into law by Governor Scott Walker requires annual recertification votes for public employees’ union representation and makes their payment of membership dues voluntary. Firefighters and police officers are exempt.

Under the new law, state workers would contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries toward pensions and pay 12.6 percent of their health-insurance costs.

Democrats and organized labor opposed the legislation as an attack on worker rights. Opponents protested inside and outside the state capital for almost four weeks.

The case is State v. Circuit Court for Dane County, 2011AP765, Wisconsin Supreme Court (Madison).

To contact the reporter on this story: Karen Gullo in San Francisco at kgullo@bloomberg.net: Marie Rohde in Milwaukee at fmarierohde@gmail.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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