MADISON, Wis. - A Dane County judge issued a restraining order on Friday to block publication of the state's collective bargaining law.
Judge Maryann Sumi issued the order to temporarily block the law as Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne had requested as part of his lawsuit. She said the order will stop publication until further order of the court. Sumi said that while the order blocks the law's publication, she said she has no authority to prevent the Legislature from voting on the controversial bill again.
"I am now issuing a restraining order preventing further implementation of this act," she said.
Ozanne filed the suit on Wednesday accusing Republican legislative leaders of violating Wisconsin's open meetings law during the rushed run-up to a Senate vote on the legislation last week.
Attorneys for the state Department of Justice asked the judge for a stay of the order, but Sumi denied the request.
The judge said that she wasn't weighing the purpose of law in issuing the order, rather the procedure.
"What I want to make clear is I make no judgments on merit of legislation," she said.
She said she was just interpreting the state's open meetings law.
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said the DOJ intends to appeal the judge's ruling, according to a statement released by his office.
"The Legislature and the governor, not a single Dane County Circuit Court judge, are responsible for the enactment of laws," Van Hollen was quoted as saying.
Van Hollen argued that the state Supreme Court has made it clear judges can't stop the secretary of state from publishing a law or be stopped when the claim pertains to a rule of legislative procedure.
Ozanne, a Democrat, contended in the suit that a legislative committee broke a political stalemate that had kept the law in limbo for weeks by meeting without the 24-hour notice required by Wisconsin's open meetings law. The Republican majority voted last week to pass the legislation without Senate Democrats, who had left the state to block just such a vote. Gov. Scott Walker signed it into law last week.
The bill can't take effect until it's formally published, and the Democratic secretary of state said he plans to wait the full 10 days allowed to publish it March 25.
Ozanne said he wanted a judge to block publication of the law so the case can be heard before the measure takes effect. He argued that irreparable harm was done to thousands of public workers was done by state lawmakers convening the committee without proper notice.
State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Scott Fitzgerald, R-Beaver Dam, released a joint statement condemning the judge's decision.
"Dane County always seems to play by its own rules, but this morning, we saw a Dane County judge try to re-write the constitutional separation of powers," the brothers were quoted as saying in the statement. "We fully expect an appeals court will find that the Legislature followed the law perfectly and likely find that today?s ruling was a significant overreach."
Walker said on Friday morning that regardless of what happens in the court, the measure will eventually become law.
"From us, in terms of 'Do you legally challenge any of the rulings?' or 'Do you look at any other options out there?'" he said. "That's something the Legislature will really look at. The bill itself, again, the law is not in question. As I understand the process that the Legislature used, they're going to have to decide what mechanism they have -- whether legal or legislative -- .but the content of the bill doesn't change
In contrast to that, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, who is a Democrat, praised the court's decision.
"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," Falk said in a statement.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca likewise hailed the judge's ruling.
"We're very pleased with the decision," Barca said. "We felt very strongly as, you know, from the moment this came forward that it was a violation of the open meetings law. The joint rules apply when joint committees meet, and we're very pleased and gratified that our system of checks and balances are well in place in Wisconsin."
Since the judge's decision is considered "not final," DOJ officials must ask the District 4 Appeals Court to be allowed to appeal the judge's ruling, which they plan on filing on Monday. A hearing for an injunction on the law is scheduled for March 29.
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