Skip to main content

Wisconsin judge dismisses 1 of 3 suits challenging controversial law

By the CNN Wire Staff

  • Judge Maryann Sumi said Dane County lacks standing to sue
  • She has put the law on hold and will hear another suit
  • The law curbs the collective bargaining rights of most state employees

(CNN) -- A Wisconsin judge on Thursday dismissed one of three lawsuits challenging the state's controversial collective bargaining law.

Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi dismissed the suit filed by Dane County and two officials, County Executive Kathleen Falk and County Board Chair Scott McDonell, saying the county lacks legal standing to assert constitutional claims against the state.

"Under longstanding Wisconsin law, an agency or arm of government lacks authority to challenge the constitutionality of state statutes," Sumi wrote.

However, she indicated that Falk and McDonell may continue the suit as individuals and taxpayers.

"The judge's decision today states only the district attorney or the attorney general can sue the state to enforce the open meetings law," Falk said in a prepared statement. "It's for this reason that I was among the first of several officials to file formal complaints with the district attorney and attorney general the very day after legislative Republicans broke open meetings laws. I applaud (Dane County) District Attorney (Ismael) Ozanne for taking up this issue."

Sumi in late March stopped the law from taking effect so she could hear one of the other two suits -- filed by Democrats who said they were not given enough time to vote on the law they were fighting. Thelaw would curb the collective bargaining rights of most state employees.

The Democrats' suit, filed by Ozanne, alleges that Republican legislators violated the state's open meetings law by calling a committee meeting to amend GOP Gov. Scott Walker's budget bill without providing the public with the necessary 24-hour advance notice. State Democrats said they were given only two hours notice for a vote.

The amended bill, which had been stalled for weeks by 14 Democratic state senators who left Wisconsin to prevent a quorum -- and thus a vote on the measure -- then sailed through an easy full state Senate vote on March 9. The state House of Representatives then passed the bill, and Walker signed it into law on March 11.

The public brouhaha over Walker's $137 million budget repair bill all but shut down the Wisconsin Legislature for weeks. It also drew protesters by the tens of thousands, among them union supporters and public employees, who called the proposed measure an attack on workers.

"While the judge ruled the county isn't the proper jurisdiction to file this suit, her ruling doesn't affect her outstanding restraining order in the district attorney's case that blocks implementation of the legislation that eliminates the rights of public workers," Falk's statement said.

"Her decision also doesn't dismiss the questions of open meetings and quorum violations. ... it just says Dane County isn't the proper entity to sue the state over those violations," Falk said.