March 26, 2011

Comedy of Errors

When Judge Maryann Sumi enjoined the Wisconsin Secretary of State from publishing the just-passed union legislation (just before leaving on vacation) the desperate union left rejoiced. One little problem -- it looks like she enjoined the wrong party, and the law was published anyway.

Wisconsin Union Law Published Despite Court Order

Wisconsin officials couldn't agree Friday about whether an explosive law taking away nearly all public worker collective bargaining rights was about to take effect after a nonpartisan legislative bureau published it despite a court order blocking implementation.

...Walker signed the collective bargaining measure March 11 and La Follette had designated Friday as the date of publication. But after the restraining order, La Follette sent a letter to the Reference Bureau saying he was rescinding the publication date.

The Reference Bureau said it's still required to publish every new law within 10 working days after it's signed by the governor, on the date designated by the secretary of state, so it went ahead on Friday.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice issued a statement saying it would evaluate how the publication of the law, which it said was lawful, affects the lawsuit that prompted the restraining order. The bureau's action did not require anything to be done by La Follette and he was not in violation of the court's order, the DOJ statement said.

Long story short: Apparently, Sumi enjoined the wrong party.

SoS La Follette (a partisan Democrat who openly acknowledged pushing back the publication date as far as he legally could to facilitate unions getting contracts in place before the law took effect) did not violate the injunction. The SoS's only discretion is in setting the date of publication, which must be within ten working days of the Governor's signature on the bill. Nor does WI statute appear to give the SoS any power to rescind once the date is set. Sumi's order enjoined the SoS from publishing the law, but it is not the SoS that initially publishes, it's the LRB. The SoS publishes later in the state newspaper, but it appears to be the LRB publication that counts for activating the statute. The law gives the LRB no discretion about whether or not to publish, the LRB was not enjoined, had a statutory DUTY to publish, and did so.

There will be much bickering about "intent" and so forth, and not being a lawyer I will simply watch the proceedings with amusement. We do love a circus! For those interested in the technicalities, this piece by Marquette law professor Rick Esenberg is a good start. A good takeaway quote:

"District Attorney Ozanne and Judge Sumi never had the authority to stop publication and their failure to read the law has only resulted in their own errors being negated. There is poetic justice in that."

Indeed. And some delicious irony too.

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