A Dane County judge said the temporary restraining order prohibiting publication of the bill limiting collective bargaining rights for public employees would stay in place, despite the continued absence of the Republican defendants.
Judge Maryann Sumi made the ruling Friday, since the Republican legislators involved in voting on the bill, who are the defendants in the proceedings, did not attend the hearing because they said they have legislative immunity. However, their absence did not give Sumi reason to lift the restraining order.
“They’re entitled to their day in court, but it also doesn’t mean that they’re entitled to have the restraining order vacated until they can no longer assert their immunity,” Sumi said.
She added future court dates would be determined once the legislators either waived their immunity or advised the court that the proceedings should go ahead in their absence.
As a result, the order prohibiting publication and further implementation of the bill is likely to remain in place for at least several weeks.
Much of Friday’s hearing centered on the testimony of Senate Chief Clerk Robert Marchant, the non-partisan official who oversees the parliamentary matters of the Senate. Marchant said he was present the night lawmakers met in a conference committee to strip the budget repair bill of its fiscal elements.
Legal counsel questioned Marchant for nearly two hours about whether he thought the way the bill was passed violated Wisconsin’s open meetings law or the rules of the Legislature. He said he did not believe the open meetings law was broken, citing a rule that takes effect during special session.
“The Legislature is required by law to give 24 hours notice prior to a vote on any bill,” Marchant told the court. “But under Senate Rule 93, only two hours of notice is required if there is good cause.”
Capitol building security personnel also testified in court Friday and gave their accounts of the public’s access to the Legislature’s vote on March 9.
Capitol Police officer Dan Blackdeer said only one of the Capitol’s eight doors was open about an hour before the meeting convened in order to have more officers providing security for the conference committee meeting itself.
However, protesters breached a second door at about 5:50 p.m.,10 minutes prior to the scheduled start of the meeting, Blackdeer said.
Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Ted Blazel told the court only about 20 members of the public were ultimately allowed in to observe the meeting.
The attorneys for the absent defendants focused their legal arguments on whether the court has the authority to try the defendants at all.
“There is a lack of jurisdiction of the judiciary to intermeddle in legislative lawmaking procedures,” said Assistant Attorney General Maria Lazar in her opening objections.
Lazar also cited the fact that her defendants were not present to give their defense because they had legislative immunity during a session of legislature, which precludes them from legal prosecution on matters related to their lawmaking.
However, Sumi dismissed all of Lazar’s objections and allowed the witnesses to give their testimonies.