Dane County judge to issue decision on unions’ lame-duck lawsuit

A Dane County judge is planning to issue a decision by the end of business today in a lawsuit brought by a series of unions challenging the lame-duck laws.

The timeline, from Judge Frank Remington, came at the conclusion of more than four hours of oral arguments yesterday in the suit. This suit makes the case the December extraordinary session laws violate the state Constitution’s separation of powers clause. A separate suit has put the lame-duck laws on hold.

The former assistant attorney general also told the court he’ll reject a motion to dismiss the case from the Legislature and its attorney, former Solicitor General Misha Tseytlin.

Remington came into the courtroom yesterday having “thoroughly studied” all of the briefs and written a draft of his decision based on the filings, he said at the start of yesterday’s hearing. That existing draft, he said later, helps account for the expected quick turnaround time in issuing his written ruling on the unions’ request for a temporary injunction in the case.

The suit, from five unions and northern Dem state Sen. Janet Bewley, is one of four filed challenges to the bills former Gov. Scott Walker signed into law following his loss to Tony Evers.

The lawsuit was filed by the Service Employees International Union, SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin, Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers and the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals.

Filed last month, the lawsuit alleges that in addition to unlawfully limiting the guv’s and AG Josh Kaul’s powers, the laws also run counter to the state Constitution’s requirement to have a quorum of lawmakers present to do business.

Yesterday’s hearing matched the Legislature’s attorney, Tseytlin, on the left side of the courtroom with more than 10 representatives of the unions, Evers and the Department of Justice seated on the opposite side.

Matt Wessler, the unions’ attorney, argued his clients’ suit is an attempt to “restore the fundamental balance of power” in the state that’s guaranteed by the Constitution.

“Last November, after the people of Wisconsin voted to change the state’s leadership, the outgoing government sought to change the rules, and concentrate power in the hands of a smaller number of people,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lester Pines, who represents the guv, slammed the laws as a “vast overreach” that clearly violates the separation of powers clause. He pointed to the executive branch’s responsibility to enforce the law, a power he said “does not reside at all with the Legislature.”

But Tseytlin countered, during questioning from Remington, that the Legislature and the executive branch have “a shared power” in making decisions in litigation.

During the course of the hearing, Tseytlin also regularly touted the importance of having “a seat at the table,” which he said amounts to “a cooperative regime.”

“If the Legislature doesn’t have a seat at the table, what is happening in this courtroom would look different,” he said, referencing himself as the sole attorney defending the state’s laws.

The proceedings largely consisted of Remington combing through the components of the lame-duck laws challenged under the suit and pelting both Tseytlin and lawyers for the unions, Evers and DOJ with questions on each.

He first listed off the sections of the laws the plaintiffs are challenging, saying since he’s looking at judging the constitutionality of those parts, he wants to understand “what (they) say and how they work.” He then transitioned into going through the laws one section at a time, posing to the attorneys inquiries about the substance of the challenges to each, as well as requesting other details.

Gov. Tony Evers says his administration is working “as quickly as possible” to fill the 82 appointments he canceled last week after a different Dane County judge ruled the Legislature’s actions during the December lame-duck session were unconstitutional.

But he told reporters that he was not sure if it could be done before an appeals court acts on a GOP-requested stay of the Dane County judge’s ruling.

While several of the appointments the guv invalidated were high-profile — including Ellen Nowak at the Public Service Commission and UW System Regents Scott Beightol and Torrey Tiedeman — Evers said that many of the appointments were to nonpartisan positions.

He noted it was likely he will re-appoint some of the appointees he rescinded on Friday, though he said his administration is currently prioritizing positions on board or commissions that have meetings scheduled soon.

The move drew criticism from Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. The Juneau Republican questioned why the appointees were invalidated in the first place.

“If the governor plans to re-appoint these positions, why the rush to vacate all of the appointments late on a Friday night?” he said in a statement. “[Evers] actions created instability and chaos across committees handling all sorts of issues important to Wisconsin – from massive new utility projects to the Domestic Abuse Advisory Council.”

Evers also said that he had no plans to replace WEDC CEO Mark Hogan.

Last week’s ruling appeared to give the guv an opportunity to restructure the state’s economic development agency after December’s lame-duck laws limited his role. But Evers said yesterday he didn’t expect to see any changes at the agency.