March 13, 2011- The Wisconsin State Troopers Union is alarmed by Governor Walker’s order to deploy them in what may have be an illegal mission to restrict access to the Wisconsin Capitol. They are concerned that the deployment may wreak financial havoc on the individual troopers in the event that lawsuits are filed against them. They are requesting that the state Department of Transportation clarify its position regarding providing legal defense for the troopers, as is offered in the line of their normal duties.
Jack Craver of The Daily Page reports:
The law enforcement officers of the State Patrol continue to follow the orders of Governor Walker and Division of State Patrol Superintendent Fitzgerald, despite concerns that doing so may be illegal. The decision of Governor Walker and Superintendent Fitzgerald to call out the State Patrol, however, places the members of the State Patrol in the way of great personal harm.
When Troopers act pursuant to their statutory authority as sworn law enforcement officers while protecting Wisconsin’s citizens on our State’s highways, Wisconsin law offers them legal representation and indemnification for lawsuits alleging violations of a citizen’s civil rights. See Wisconsin Statutes § 895.46(1)(a). However, the protections of this law only apply in circumstances where a law enforcement officer acts “within the scope of their employment.” Because of concerns that the call out by Governor Walker may be illegal under Wisconsin Statutes § 323.17, a ruling by a court or jury that a Trooper was not acting “within the scope of their employment, ” could be devastating to a Trooper and their family.
This isn’t Governor Walker’s first go around with deploying the WST in a manner which may violate the law. Hrafnkell Haraldsson reported for PoliticusUSA that CREW previously filed charges against the Governor for his illegal use of troopers in a labor dispute, which violates Wisconsin law. Walker deployed troopers to Democratic Senate Leader Mark Miller’s home to deliver “a message,” hoping to force the lawmaker back into session so that the bill could be passed without negotiation with unions.
“The laws of Wisconsin are very specific as to when and why the WSP can be employed by the governor, such as civil disorder or threat to the safety of individuals, or a state of emergency, none of which applied. And the governor absolutely cannot employ the WSP “in any dispute or controversy between an employer and employee concerning wages, hours, labor, or working conditions.”
Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald, the head of the WST, is ironically the father of Republican Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald and it was the Senate Majority Leader who asked Governor Walker to deploy the troopers to deliver a message to a political opponent in a labor dispute. The father of Republican Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald was just appointed to his position of superintendent of WST on February 14, 2011.
CREW alleges that Walker utilized an unlawful benefit – the use of the troopers – in an effort to gain an advantage in his wage dispute with the state’s public employees.
As the head of the WST continues to allow his troopers to be deployed in what may be a violation of both the letter and intent of the law by restricting access to the Capitol, the WST union leader is concerned that the ramifications of the allegedly illegal orders of both the head of WST and the Governor will fall upon the heads of the troopers, should a lawsuit be filed in regards to their limiting access to the State Capitol in violation of a court order to provide access to the public during business hours.
So now we have arguably two counts of Governor Walker deploying troopers against labor in a labor dispute. Walker could argue that he deployed the troopers to the Capitol out of concern for public safety; however, given the fact that he ordered the troopers to restrict access to the Capitol and they did so during the bill’s vote, and they further restricted access to Democratic lawmakers during that vote, it would seem the WST’s union leader’s concerns are justified.