A Dane County circuit judge has struck down the budget repair bill for violating the open meetings law - except, according to senate rules, the open meeting statute does not apply to conference committee business which is what the Judge, Maryann Sumi, based her decision on.
It's a first class mess and to make it even worse, the timing of the Judge's decision is highly suspect. The Wisconsin Department of Justice wrote Sumi a letter on Wednesday asking her to recuse herself from the matter because she had made a public statement about the open meeting statute.
In a 33-page decision issued Thursday, Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi said she would overturn the legislation because GOP lawmakers on a committee broke the state's open meetings law in passing it March 9. The legislation limits collective bargaining to wages for all public employees in Wisconsin except for police and firefighters.
On March 18, Sumi had placed a temporary hold on the law, but Thursday's ruling voided it entirely - at least until the Supreme Court decides whether to act in the case.
"It's what we were looking for," said Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, a Democrat.
Ozanne sued to block the law after Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) filed a complaint saying that GOP legislative leaders had not given proper notice to the public in convening a conference committee of lawmakers from both houses to approve Walker's budget-repair bill.
Steve Means, the No. 3 official at the state Department of Justice, said the agency and GOP Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen have been surprised at Sumi's handling of the case, and in a letter Wednesday agency attorneys asked whether Sumi would recuse herself from it.
"Obviously, we're disappointed in the ruling. We do think it reflects a number of legal errors, but it's for the appellate courts at this point," Means said.
Sumi did not rule on the constitutionality of the bill. In fact, GOP senators say they can simply attach the same legislation to spending bills this month and get it passed in accordance with the open meetings law. The big battle will be in the Supreme Court where a hearing will be held on June 6.