Macrh 18, 2011- A Dane County judge Friday ordered a temporary halt to Gov. Scott Walker's controversial measure to curb collective bargaining for public employees, saying a legislative committee likely violated the state Open Meetings Law when it rushed passage of the bill earlier this month.
"This was something that would and did catch the public unaware," Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi, saying the joint Assembly-Senate conference committee's action March 9 amounted to a "closed session of a body … propelling legislation forward."
Sumi's ruling bars Secretary of State Doug La Follette from publishing the law, the last step before it can take effect. La Follette had planned to publish the law on March 25, which would cause it to take effect the following day.
Walker, who signed the bill last week, had asked La Follette to publish it sooner. But La Follette said he saw no urgency to move the law ahead and wanted to give legal challenges a chance to run their course.
Sumi made her decision after hearing arguments from Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and Assistant Attorney General Maria Lazar.
Assistant Attorney General Steven Means said afterward that the state plans a quick appeal.
"The reason they have appellate courts is because circuit court judges make errors, and we think that happened in this case," Means said.
In a statement, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said circuit court judges cannot interfere with the enactment of laws, which are the constitutional duty of the Legislature and the governor. Past Supreme Court decisions make clear that courts cannot stop laws from taking effect based solely on a claim that the Legislature didn't follow proper procedures, "even one as important as the Open Meetings law," Van Hollen wrote.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and his brother, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Beaver Dam, lambasted the ruling in a joint statement.
"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," they wrote. "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."