Judge Maryann Sumi

  • May 31, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Craig Johnson, an attorney at Sweet and Associates in Milwaukee, Wis. Mr. Johnson is on the Board of Directors of ACS’s Milwaukee Chapter.


    In a ruling applauded by unions and advocates of open government, a Wisconsin trial court judge recently struck down the controversial law gutting collective bargaining for public employees. Judge Maryann Sumi ruled that the law had been passed in violation of the state's open meetings law, a provision founded on the state constitution's command that the doors of each house of the legislature shall remain open during session.

    The collective bargaining legislation provoked mass protests from unions and progressive activists when it was proposed by newly elected Governor Scott Walker (pictured) this past winter. It prompted Democratic state senators to leave the state in an effort to slow down passage. The Republican-controlled legislature responded with a parliamentary maneuver that allowed it to consider the bill without the constitutional quorum required for budget proposals. Republicans pushed the changes through conference committee in a March 9 session in a meeting for which they did not give requisite public notice. It was that action, which resulted in the Dane County Judge - who was appointed by Republican Governor Tommy Thompson- voiding the law.

    The battle over the law, which severely limits the collective bargaining rights of public sector employees, has sharply divided the state, and recall elections are now moving forward for nine senators - six Republicans and three Democrats. If the legislature ultimately has to reconsider the law, its future may hinge on the outcome of these elections. The other possibility is that the Republicans will try to include the collective bargaining changes in the 2011-13 budget now under consideration. This could force Republican senators to take another difficult vote on the eve of July recall elections. In the meantime, the Republican Attorney General has asked the state Supreme Court to vacate Judge Sumi's decision, saying she exceeded her power in striking down the legislation without finding a constitutional violation. Oral argument before the court is June 6.  

  • May 27, 2011

    Groups supporting the rights of workers are hailing a Wisconsin state judge’s permanent injunction of a law aimed at trashing collective bargaining rights, but as The New York Times reports Republicans in the state are hoping the state’s highest court will intervene and overturn the injunction.

    Judge Maryann Sumi of Dane County Circuit ruled that Republican lawmakers violated the state’s open meetings law when it rushed to pass a measure widely panned as an effort to hobble the rights of public employees.

    In March Republicans and Gov. Scott Walker (pictured) were feverishly trying to pass the measure after numerous Democratic state lawmakers left the state in efforts to scuttle the legislation. After failing to get the Democratic lawmakers to return to the legislature, Republicans went into an emergency late night session to pass the bill and send it to Walker for his signature.

    Judge Sumi ruled that Republican efforts to move the anti-union measure to Gov. Walker failed to provide adequate notice to the public.

    “The court must consider,” Sumi wrote, “the potential damage to public trust and confidence in government if the Legislature is not held to the same rules of transparency that it has created for other governmental bodies. Our form of government depends on citizens’ trust and confidence in the process by which our elected officials make laws, at all levels of government.”

    Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told the Wisconsin State Journal that the state’s Supreme Court will have the final say. “There’s still a much larger separation-of-powers issue: whether on Madison judge can stand in the way of the other two democratically elected branches of government.”

    But State Rep. Peter Barca lauded Judge Sumi’s decision, saying it “sets an important precedent that when the Legislature meets, the people have a seat at the table. This is a huge victory for Wisconsin Democracy.”

    AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a statement following the judge’s injunction, said, “Gov. Walker and Senate Republicans may forge ahead to undermine middle-class families, voting rights and more, but they will not be able to do it without full and close scrutiny.”

    Marty Bell, executive director of AFSCME, blasted the state lawmakers and Gov. Walker for ramming “through destructive changes that took away rights from Wisconsin citizens under the cover of darkness. Judge Sumi correctly noted that nobody is above the law that requires the public’s business to be done in public.”

  • March 31, 2011

    Wis. Gov. Scott Walker says his administration will comply with a state judge’s order against implementing a measure that would severely slash rights of the state’s public workers, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

    The governor’s decision to halt implementing the controversial law was announced not long after Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Summi issued a brief order stating, “Based on the briefs of counsel, the uncontroverted testimony, and the evidence received at the March 29, 2011 evidentiary hearing, it is hereby DECLARED that 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 has not been published within the meaning of the (state statutes), and is therefore not in effect.”

    Walker’s Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch said in a statement that while the administration believed the so-called “budget-repair” bill was legal, it would follow Judge Summi’s order and “suspend implementation of it at this time.” 

    In a guest post for ACSblog, Peg Lautenschlager, former Attorney General of Wisconsin, lauded Judge Sumi’s March 18 opinion that the measure was passed in violation of the state’s open meetings law. In their effort to pass the measure over staunch opposition from Democratic lawmakers, Wisconsin Republican lawmakers took “devious” steps to get the measure to Gov. Walker, likely violating the state’s government transparency law, Lautenschlager wrote.

  • March 25, 2011
    Gov. Scott Walker's aggressive tactics to crush collective bargaining in Wisconsin include a dark underbelly TPM's Josh Marshall writes.

    Marshall highlights a situation involving University of Wisconsin professor William Cronon who wrote a blog post at Scholar as Citizen examining the "sudden and impressively well-organized wave of legislation being introduced into state legislatures that all seem to be pursuing parallel goals only tangentially related to current fiscal challenges - ending collective bargaining rights for public employees, requiring photo IDs at the ballot box, rolling back environmental protections, privileging property rights over civil right ...."

    Cronon also authored a piece for The New York Times in which he compared Gov. Walker's (pictured) efforts to push an anti-workers' rights measure through the state legislature to the infamous work of former U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy.

    Professor Cronon's criticism, Marshall writes, triggered a harsh reaction from the Wisconsin Republican Party. It lodged "a state open records request to gain access to Cronon's personal emails to get a look at what communications or discussions or sources or anything else" that went into Cronon's work.

    Marshall writes:

    Now, 'personal' is up for some reasonable debate here. This is his university email. And he's a Professor at the University of Wisconsin, the state university. So he's a state employee. Still, he's not an elected official or someone doing public business in the sense you'd ordinarily understand the term. Nor are they looking at anything tied to the administration of the University, which is legitimately a public matter. In the ordinary sense we tend to understand the word it's his personal email. And the range of requested documents leave no doubt about what they're after.

    Cronon has responded to the Republican Party's move, noting its use of the state open records request is a "perversion" of the law, Marshall noted.

    In his New York Times column, Cronon said Gov. Walker's conduct, which has spurred enormous protests at the state capitol, "has provoked a level of divisiveness and bitter partisan hostility the likes of which have not been seen in this state since at least the Vietnam War. Many citizens are furious at their governor and his party, not only because of profound policy differences, but because these particular Republicans have exercised power in abusively nontransparent ways that represent such a radical break from the state's tradition of open government."

    In a guest post for ACSblog, former Wis. Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager lauds state Judge Maryann Sumi for temporarily halting Gov. Walker's bill to strip collective bargaining rights from workers, saying it was a blatant violation of the state's open meetings law.

  • March 23, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Peg Lautenschlager, Of Counsel at the law firm of Bauer & Bach, LLC. Ms. Lautenschlager is the former Attorney General of Wisconsin and a former U.S. Attorney.
    Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi's courageous decision last week to stay the publication of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's so-called "Budget Repair Bill" is receiving both cheers and jeers in America's heartland. Walker and his legislative cronies, in a late night move that was at the least devious, and likely contrary to the state's strong Open Meetings Law, passed legislation that stripped public employees of meaningful bargaining rights, while aiming to eviscerate public employee unions.

    Legislative republicans were stymied in their efforts to pass their anti-union bill, when the fourteen state senate democrats headed south across the border to Illinois. While the Democrats are three votes short of a majority, they comprise 42 percent of the senate. Thus, they were able to deny the Senate Republicans the ability to gather three-fifths of the members to constitute the constitutionally necessary quorum.

    The republicans responded last week, with late night "emergency" meeting of a joint legislative conference committee allowed by recently enacted senate rules. The committee voted on party lines to strip the legislation of its fiscal components and leave only the draconian changes to collective bargaining intact. With the fiscal items eliminated, the senate republicans voted 18-1 to pass the governor's amended bill. The next day, the assembly also passed the legislation.