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Running From the Law: Trouble in Wisconsin for Republicans

more from Sarah Jones
Saturday, April, 2nd, 2011, 4:09 pm

The Republicans in Wisconsin, led by the hubris of Gov. Walker, have made a real mess of things for the state, the people, but also for themselves. With Governor Walker’s entire career hanging in the balance, he and the Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald attempted to push through the anti-union bill late on a Friday night, without notice to the public. Now the Republicans are on the run from the law.

When a judge ruled that it appeared the plaintiff in a case against their passage of the bill would prevail, and so ordered the bill not to be published into law, the Republicans violated the court order by having it published by another entity. The judge came back with a second court order. The cowboys said they were going to do as they pleased in spite of the court order, but then the judge clarified her position and suddenly the boys got into line. Third time is a charm, apparently.

And so the bill is not law yet. The judge is now hearing testimony about how the Republicans originally passed the law and it’s clear they have violated the open meeting law, as alleged. They are now claiming legislative immunity in order to avoid the lawsuit.

Currently, the judge is only hearing testimony on the open meeting law challenge. After this, there is the violation of a court order, the violation of the state constitution in the original legislation, the failure to have quorum, and a likely conspiracy charge regarding the pressure put upon another body to publish the law against their wishes– among other hurdles they face. Right now, the judge is looking into their claim that their meeting was an emergency meeting, but the testimony so far as well as empirical evidence via Walker’s press conferences on the subject make it appear as if they  deliberately misled the Democrats and the people. Conspiracy and deliberate and multiple violations of the open meeting law are not small matters.

As far as the issue before the county trial court right now (where all litigation begins, contrary to the conservative smear going around that county trial courts have no business interfering in the legislative process; the court system is a check and balance on both other branches of government and this is exactly how it is supposed to function), the violation of open meetings law, there are several factors being weighed. Republicans claimed it was an emergency meeting that did not need to meet the requirements for open meeting laws under a special senate rule. So the questions are: 1) Was it an emergency meeting. 2) Does the senate rule apply. 3) Was notice given. 4) Was access provided. The access question involves several factors as well: General access to the Capitol as well as access to the assembly chamber and then lastly, as the Republicans took the meeting in a small private room and shut the door (itself a violation of open meeting laws).

Earlier, the judge determined that it did not appear to meet the requirements for an emergency meeting and that the senate rule did not apply, as there were assembly members present. This means that the Republicans did not have a leg to stand on in calling an emergency meeting without proper notice. Open meeting laws require 24 hours’ notice prior to a meeting. Notice was not given other than an email sent out just under two hours before the beginning of the meeting and a posting on a bulletin board. This qualifies is the first count of a violation of the open meeting laws.

But here’s where it starts to get really interesting and potentially career damaging for the Republicans, and that is the issue of access. Access was denied to the Capitol that night, with only one of eight doors being open which caused a bottleneck and delayed entrance so as to miss the meeting. A Democratic lawmaker was turned away from the doors as well and had to climb in through a bathroom window.

Access was further denied into the Senate gallery; people were turned away — even though there are seats for 85 people, only 24 were let in. A guard standing outside the door denied access to everyone after the first 24 people. The doors to the Senate gallery were then locked for the next 40 minutes after a senate staffer claimed there was a security breach. These folks were smart enough to start a petition of people who were there and were denied access. There are just under 3,000 names on that petition. This is a violation of open meeting laws on multiple levels, including access and locked doors. Locked doors to the Legislature when the lawmakers are in session violate the state constitution. Lastly, a text message was sent to a person in the Senate gallery from someone attempting to gain entrance who was told by the guard that the gallery was “full.”

And then there’s the fact that the Republicans moved the conference committee meeting from the Senate chambers (where the 24 citizens had seats) into a small parlor off of the Senate chambers, with no room for anyone but the press and the lawmakers, and closed the doors, while there were plenty of much larger rooms available in the Capitol that night (though none large enough for 3,000 people). This is another violation.

As I reported that night, they violated these open meeting laws as a Democratic lawmaker read the rules aloud to them and begged them to stop. This is all on video, which I can only imagine will be very damaging to the Republicans.

In the course of taking testimony yesterday, it was revealed that the Republicans had discussed having this meeting two days prior. In fact, while they were discussing this plan of how to pass the bill without the Democrats, Gov. Walker released certain emails of his to the press, to “prove” he was trying to work with the Democrats (he did this at the same time he denied giving his emails on this matter to the press under a freedom of information request). And yet, it now appears from testimony that the Republicans never intended to work with the Democrats and that Walker’s press conference deliberately misled the public about the direction the administration and the Republicans were going. So not only did they violate the open meeting laws, but they may have conspired to do so.

The Journal Sentinel
reported:

Testimony also showed Republicans discussed forming the committee on March 7 – 48 hours before the committee met. That would have left them time to provide 24 hours’ notice for the meeting, but Marchant said he did not believe a final decision on creating the committee was made until March 9.

At the meeting were: Fitzgerald; his brother, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon); Brian Hayes, Walker’s budget director; Eric Schutt, Walker’s deputy chief of staff; Bob Lang, director of the Legislative Fiscal Bureau; and the chief clerks of both houses.

Things get worse for the Republicans who are trying to claim legislative immunity to avoid being sued for their actions, let alone testifying in court.

An earlier Journal Sentinel report stated:

Marchant said he got word around 2:30 p.m. on March 9 that the conference committee would be formed and would meet at 6 p.m. that night.

The March 7 meeting came just after back-channel talks between Democrats and Republicans stalled. Meanwhile, Walker told reporters there was no reason to meet with Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller (D-Monona) because he wasn’t offering a deal.

The next day, Walker released emails he sent to the Democrats showing he was willing to compromise in the hope of getting them back to Madison. However, he did not disclose that his top aides had been taking about creating the conference committee to get around Democratic senators.

The Republicans are on the run from the court now, claiming legislative immunity to avoid being brought to task for their actions. They may get away with this for two years, depending on how the court ends up defining the legislative period. The judge offered the Republicans the chance to pass their bill properly, but they declined, muttering things about activist judges having no place in the legislative process. If the Republicans believe that, they should be immediately recalled for an utter lack of respect and understanding for how the three branches of government work together to avoid abuse of power. A judge demanding that the law be followed is not an activist judge.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported:

Instead of a decision Friday, Sumi gave lawyers in the case three legal questions she wants them to answer, setting a seven-week period for legal briefs and responses.

In the meantime, the case will also wait for the four lawmakers who are asserting legislative immunity — Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau; Senate President Michael Ellis, R-Neenah; Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon; and Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford — until they either waive immunity or are out of session and can be served with the lawsuit.

That could be months. Ozanne said there are windows in July and December in which the Legislature is not in session. State law grants immunity to legislators during sessions and for 15 days before and after, but it’s not settled whether sessions are defined as legislative floor periods or entire two-year periods between elections.

The Wisconsin Republicans’ strategies from the beginning of this debacle have been so foolish as to make one question their ability to lead in any capacity. Legislators should be able to strategize and plan, but these folks have fumbled the ball at every pass and it looks like their own hubris will block them from a first down, let alone a touchdown. In fact, it almost appears as if they scored one for the other team because the court is just beginning to hear testimony about the open meetings law violation, and this alone is enough to make serious problems for the Republicans. There is a mountain of evidence to back up the claim that they violated the open meeting laws, including their own press conferences, videos, testimony of police officers working the Capitol that night, and a petition signed by just under 3,000 witnesses.

Republicans may avoid the court as long as they are in session. The Wisconsin Republicans are actually on the run from the law now, using the legislative session as cover in order to avoid answering questions that will most certainly not reflect well upon them.

Make no mistake about it, what the Republicans are accused of doing in Wisconsin is a very serious breach of the law, in fact, more egregious than it may first appear. They are entrusted as lawmakers to follow the law when they are making a new law. They appear to have violated the law along with the people’s trust, and now want to avoid responsibility for their actions. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) called the order “judicial activism at its worst. Once again, one Dane County judge is doing everything she can to stand in the way of our efforts to improve the economy and create jobs.” That sort of blustery bravado will only work with their base, whose adaptable values are based on party power plays rather than blind convictions to principles. In point of fact, the budget will be balanced without the collective bargaining law passed.

As this is the third court order put up against them, they are really testing the patience of the court by giving press statements disparaging the court they are afraid to enter. And just why won’t they face the court? They are entitled to claim legislative immunity, but if they are innocent as they proclaim, why are they doing it?

If they had only done this right, they might actually have succeeded. This case may likely end up in the state Supreme Court, bringing extra scrutiny to the upcoming elections for supreme court justice this Tuesday with David Prosser (endorsed by Sarah Palin) having called himself a “complement to Walker” facing off against JoAnn Kloppenburg. Prosser was recently in the press for having called the Chief Justice a “bitch” he was going to “destroy”.




Running From the Law: Trouble in Wisconsin for Republicans was written by Sarah Jones for PoliticusUSA.
© PoliticusUSA, Sat, Apr 2nd, 2011 — All Rights Reserved

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