Tag Archives: judge

Supreme Court declines to reopen Walker campaign case

The U.S. Supreme Court will not take up an appeal on the John Doe 2 case, permanently ending a probe into Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign against a recall.

The high court declined to reopen the John Doe 2 investigation, leaving in place the state supreme court’s decision that halted the John Doe probe into whether the Republican governor illegally coordinated with outside interest groups, specifically the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth. The state court’s decision was considered highly partisan.

In the probe, prosecutors were looking into whether Walker’s campaign coordinated with conservative groups on campaign ads in 2012. The governor was fighting off a recall effort after he signed his bill stripping public unions of collective bargaining rights.

The Wisconsin Justice Initiative on Oct. 3 said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision highlights a need to reform state judicial campaign laws.

“This unfortunate decision doesn’t erase the perception that money corrupted the deliberative process of the Wisconsin Supreme Court,” WJI executive director Gretchen Schuldt said. “That court’s majority took too much in campaign funds from too many players with interests in the case. The money raises suspicions that will never go away.”

The state should bar judges from participating in cases that include or might affect campaign donors, according to WJI. Also, judges should be blocked from participating in cases involving groups or individuals who have provided endorsements in the judges’ races.

“The integrity of the state supreme court has rightly been called into question,” Schuldt said. “The court itself does not want to restore it and the U.S. Supreme Court does not want to restore it. It is up to Wisconsin voters to insist that their legislators enact laws that will ensure the state supreme court is the pride of Wisconsin, not the huge embarrassment it is now.”

Iowa County District Attorney Larry Nelson, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm issue a joint statement after learning of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision: “We are disappointed by today’s Supreme Court order denying our Petition for Certiorari. The state supreme court decision, left intact by today’s order, prohibits Wisconsin citizens from enacting laws requiring the full disclosure of disguised contributions to a candidate, i.e., monies expended by third parties at the direction of a candidate for the benefit of that candidate’s election. We are proud to have taken this fight as far as the law would allow and we look forward to the day when Wisconsin adopts a more enlightened view of the need for transparency in campaign finance.”

Wisconsin Club for Growth president Eric O’Keefe, according to Wisconsin Public Radio, said, “From its inception, this proceeding was a politically motivated attack and a criminal investigation in search of a theory.”

The high court announced the decision without explanation on Oct. 3, the court’s first day of the fall term. The order said, “The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.”

Editor’s note: This story will be updated.


Judge: Wisconsin residents lacking photo IDs can vote in November

A federal district court judge says Wisconsin residents lacking photo identification can vote in the November general election.

The judge issued an order to that effect on July 19.

The preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman, based in Milwaukee, allows people who haven’t been able to obtain IDs to vote, provided they sign an affidavit stating why they couldn’t get identification.

However, Adelman says there isn’t enough time before state’s Aug. 9 primary to implement the option to sign an affidavit.

The judge’s order responds to a motion for an injunction filed in June by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty.

Sean Young, an attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, responded to the decision in a news release. “Wisconsin’s voter ID law has been a mistake from day one,” Young said. “This ruling is a strong rebuke of the state’s efforts to limit access to the ballot box. It means that a failsafe will be in place in November for voters who have had difficulty obtaining ID.”

The case is Ruthelle Frank et al v. Scott Walker.

On the Web

Read the ruling at the ACLU’s website.


Dane County court rules against DNR in CAFO case

The latest development in Kewaunee County residents’ drive to protect drinking water from agricultural pollutants confirms the duty of Wisconsin DNR to require monitoring for groundwater pollution.

In October 2015, Clean Wisconsin and Midwest Environmental Advocates filed suit after DNR decided to ignore an administrative law judge order to require monitoring and an animal unit cap in a Kewaunee County Confined Animal Feeding Operation permit.

Late last week, Dane County Circuit Court ruled that DNR’s actions were illegal and that the agency overstepped its authority by ignoring the ALJ order.

In the case of Kinnard Farms, Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey Boldt ordered groundwater quality monitoring, a limit on the number of animals at the facility and other conditions on the facility’s wastewater permit to address widespread concern about groundwater contamination in late 2014.

Ten months later, DNR ignored that decision and stripped these sensible and necessary groundwater protection conditions from the permit, according to a news release from Clean Wisconsin.

Dane County Judge Markson wrote: “The laws that provide structure and predictability to our administrative process do not allow an agency to change its mind on a whim or for political purposes. The people of Wisconsin reasonably expect consistency, uniformity, and predictability from their administrative agencies and from the Department of Justice .…DNR had no authority to reverse (its own final) decision. Its attempt to do so is without any basis in law, and it is void.”

Responding, Elizabeth Wheeler, a staff attorney with Clean Wisconsin, said, “This ruling reinforces that DNR has an absolute duty to protect groundwater. The conditions in this permit are reasonable and common-sense protections in an area that is riddled with widespread drinking water contamination.”

She continued, “It is a fundamental duty of DNR to ensure that Wisconsin residents have a safe, reliable, and clean source of drinking water. The people of Kewaunee County don’t have that right now, and if DNR can’t require monitoring or other limits in permits, it will be impossible to locate the source of the contaminants, much less clean up the mess.”

Act 21 at issue

One of the issues in the case was to what degree 2011 Act 21 limits DNR’s authority.

Clean Wisconsin said industrial representatives have been trying to use Act 21 as a way to prevent DNR from requiring sensible permit conditions to limit pollution.

This law also is the basis for a recent opinion for Attorney General Brad Schimel that essentially stripped DNR of its authority to regulate pumping from high capacity wells, which is drying up rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands in some parts of Wisconsin.

“We are pleased that courts are rejecting the claim that DNR’s hands are tied by 2011 Act 21, and we hope this is the beginning of many court decisions that restore one of the most critical functions we rely on our DNR for: protection of our water,” Wheeler said.

The decision follows the release of 65 DNR-facilitated workgroup recommendations for addressing groundwater contamination in Kewaunee County, including increased CAFO audits by DNR and revised regulations for landspreading manure in sensitive areas.

Prosser to retire from Wisconsin Supreme Court

Right-wing Justice David T. Prosser Jr. has announced he will retire from the Wisconsin Supreme Court on July 31.

Justice David T. Prosser Jr.
Justice David T. Prosser Jr.

In a letter to Gov. Scott Walker, Prosser said, “It has been a tremendous honor to serve the people of Wisconsin in various capacities for more than 40 years. During this time, I have had the exceptional privilege of working in all three branches of state government, including 18 years as a representative in the State Assembly and 18 years as a justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.”

Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Drake Roggensack issued a statement after the announcement: “Justice David T. Prosser is an exceptionally bright and thoughtful jurist whose presence on the court will be greatly missed. David has brought unique perspectives to court discussions, thereby increasing the court’s ability to understand difficult problems presented to us for resolution.”

Prosser was first appointed to the Supreme Court by Republican Gov. Tommy G. Thompson in 1998 to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of former Justice Janine P. Geske.

Prosser was elected to a 10-year term in 2001 and re-elected in 2011, in a close race with huge voting irregularities in Waukesha County.

Prosser has been a chief ally of Gov. Scott Walker and, when the justice ran for re-election in 2011 he had strong support from right-wing organizations, including the anti-gay Family Research Council’s Super PAC.

FRC, in that campaign, criticized Prosser’s main rival, JoAnne Kloppenburg, as having “liberal special interests.”

Prosser also benefitted in the campaign from about $1 million in advertising from two groups linked to Koch Industries – Citizens for a Strong America and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. In March 2011, Prosser voted with the Supreme Court’s conservative majority to overturn a lower court decision allowing a public challenge to a permit that gave Koch’s Georgia Pacific plants more leeway in dumping phosphorus into Fox River waterways.

A year earlier, Prosser gained national name recognition after calling Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson “a total bitch” and threatening to “destroy her” in a closed-door meeting.

The media also reported that in June 2011 Prosser got into an altercation with Justice Ann Walsh Bradley in her office, putting his hands around her neck during a meeting before the court announced its split-ruling upholding Walker’s anti-union legislation.

Walker issued a statement this week saying, “Prosser has faithfully served the state of Wisconsin for decades. Throughout his almost 18 years of service on the state Supreme Court, he demonstrated his love for the law and commitment to Wisconsin’s citizens.”

Prior to joining the court, he served as a commissioner on the Wisconsin Tax Appeals Commission from 1997 to 1998 and as a representative in the Assembly from 1978 through 1996, including two years as speaker and five years as minority leader.

Before that, Prossser served as a district attorney in Outagamie County, administrative assistant to then-U.S. Rep. Harold V. Froehlich and as an attorney-advisor for the U.S. Department of Justice.

Judge won’t stay ruling against Wisconsin ‘right to work’ law

A Dane County judge refused on April 26 to stay his ruling striking down Wisconsin’s right-to-work law, reiterating his position that the legislation wrongly enables non-union workers to receive free representation.

Judge William Foust said he doesn’t believe state attorneys have shown they’ll overturn his decision on appeal and have no evidence the state would suffer if his ruling stands. He said the core of his ruling is whether a union has to provide free services.

“The decision boils down to something as simple as ‘there is no free lunch,’” the judge said.

Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, who is defending the law, immediately said he’ll seek a stay from a state appeals court “where we feel confident this law will be upheld.”

Right-to-work laws prohibit businesses and unions from reaching agreements that require all workers, not just union members, to pay union dues. Since unions must represent all employees in a workplace, the laws essentially allow non-union workers to benefit from union representation for free. Twenty-five states have such laws

Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed Wisconsin’s version last year.

Three unions – the AFL-CIO’s Wisconsin chapter, Machinists Local Lodge 1061 and United Steelworkers District 2 – filed a lawsuit challenging the law in March 2015, arguing the statutes amount to an illegal taking of their services without compensation.

Foust found the law unconstitutional earlier this month. The state Justice Department asked Foust last week to stay the ruling. They filed notice of appeal the same day with the Wausau-based 3rd District Court of Appeals.

Assistant Attorney General Steven Kilpatrick argued at a hearing Monday that the judge should grant the stay because the state likely will win the appeal, all statutes are presumed constitutional and the state suffers harm any time it can’t enforce a law and unions aren’t likely to suffer substantial harm if the law remains in place pending the appeal.

Fred Perillo, the unions’ attorney, countered that a stay would harm the unions. He said keeping the law in place would cost the unions thousands of dollars in potential dues, prevent them from negotiating contracts requiring due payments and prohibit contract clauses reinstating union dues if right-to-work was struck down from taking effect.

The Wisconsin AFL-CIO issued a statement praising Foust for again affirming that the right-to-work law is unconstitutional.

Puerto Rican judge nominated as 1st gay chief justice in U.S.

Puerto Rican judge Maite Oronoz Rodriguez has been nominated to head the U.S. territory’s Supreme Court as the first openly gay chief justice in the United States.

Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla announced the nomination on Friday afternoon calling it a “new time” for Puerto Rico’s judicial branch. At 39, Oronoz Rodriguez is also the youngest member of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court.

“It’s time to strengthen justice to face the challenges” and “to pass the administration of justice to present generations who will live the results,” the governor said in making the nomination.

The 39-year-old was first appointed to the high court in June 2014. She previously served as the commonwealth’s deputy solicitor general and chief legal counselor for the city of San Juan.

In accepting the nomination, Oronoz Rodriguez said it was time for her to “step down from the podium and receive with open arms a citizenry that demands human justice.”

Her nomination must be confirmed by the Senate.

Oronoz Rodriguez is in a relationship with Gina Mendez, the chief of staff for Senate President Eduardo Bhatia.

Gay rights activists hailed the nomination.

“With this nomination, Maite Oronoz Rodriguez makes judicial history; not just in Puerto Rico, but for the entire country,” said Lambda Legal attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan. He called the nomination “a significant step towards a judiciary that reflects the growing diversity of the United States.” Lambda is a nonprofit group that aims to achieve full civil rights for gay people.

In consumer fraud case, Judge orders ‘ex-gay’ counseling nonprofit to close

A New Jersey nonprofit found to have violated consumer fraud laws for offering therapy it said would turn gays to heterosexuals must shut down, a judge ordered this month.

The granting of a permanent injunction against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, known as JONAH, was an outgrowth of a lawsuit filed against the group in 2012 by several men, and two of their mothers, claiming it engaged in fraud and made claims it couldn’t back up.

In June, a Hudson County jury awarded the plaintiffs about $72,000 in damages.

The ruling signed by state Superior Court Judge Peter Bariso ordered Jersey City-based JONAH to cease all operations within 30 days and barred it from “engaging, whether directly or through referrals, in any therapy, counseling, treatment or activity that has the goal of changing, affecting or influencing sexual orientation, ‘same sex attraction’ or ‘gender wholeness.'”

Bariso’s order also awarded attorneys’ fees and expenses to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

David Dinielli, an attorney for the men, said the decision sends a message to providers of so-called gay conversion therapy that the practice is fraudulent.

“The practice of conversion therapy, at base, constitutes fraud,” he said. “It is premised on the lie that homosexuality is a disease or disorder. This case proved it to be a lie.”

An attorney who represented JONAH at the trial did not immediately return a message seeking comment. The group had claimed that it did not make guarantees to clients and that it should be allowed to offer help to people struggling with their sexual orientation.

The four original plaintiffs in the lawsuit who underwent the therapy — one ultimately dropped out of the suit —alleged the nonprofit exploited them with false promises as they struggled with their same-sex attractions in strict religious environments where they were expected to marry women and have children.

One testified his therapy included hitting a pillow, meant to represent his mother, with a tennis racket. He said he was told his mother was the cause of his homosexuality, prompting him to temporarily cut off all communications with her.

Gov. Chris Christie signed a law in 2013 banning licensed therapists from practicing conversion therapy in New Jersey. Two court challenges to the ban, one by a couple and their son and one by a group that included two licensed therapists, were dismissed by a federal judge. Those decisions were later affirmed by a federal appeals court.

New Jersey’s ban was not raised during the trial because JONAH employees weren’t licensed therapists.

Judge dismisses minimum-wage lawsuit against Gov. Walker

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker that sought to force an increase in Wisconsin’s minimum wage.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports Dane County Judge Rhonda Lanford dismissed the lawsuit.

The progressive group Wisconsin Jobs Now had helped bring the suit against the Walker administration as part of an ongoing effort to force an increase in the state’s minimum wage.

The group and individual workers sought to use a little-known clause in Wisconsin law to raise the state minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and pin Walker down on the issue during his 2014 re-election campaign.

Wisconsin Jobs spokeswoman Lisa Lucas says an appeal is unlikely.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice had no immediate comment.

Judge: DNR can’t impose requirements on wells at large farms

Wisconsin environmental officials can’t impose groundwater monitoring requirements as a condition for high-capacity well permits, an Appleton judge has ruled in a decision that could have far-reaching effects on well construction across the state.

Outagamie County Judge Mark McGinnis ruled from the bench that the state Department of Natural Resources lacks the explicit authority to impose such requirements and a 2011 state law eliminated the agency’s broad authority to create such requirements.

Business groups hailed the decision, saying it validates the law and prevents regulatory overreach.

“(The ruling) shows that the days of regulating by bureaucratic fiat are over,” Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s chamber of commerce, said in a statement.

Environmental groups, meanwhile, said the decision sets a terrible precedent and will prohibit the DNR from monitoring high-capacity wells’ impact on Wisconsin waters.

“Monitoring is a really common sense tool,” said Elizabeth Wheeler, an attorney for Clean Wisconsin. “If they’re not able to do that, there’s no accountability there.”

The extent of the DNR’s authority to regulate high-capacity wells, which the agency defines as a well that can that pump at least 70 gallons per minute, has been a hot-button issue in Wisconsin for years as factory farms sink more of them to supply water for their herds and other farmers look for large-scale ways to irrigate crops.

Conservationists fear the wells have been depleting groundwater, lakes and streams, particularly in the state’s central sands region. According to the DNR, more than 2,000 high-capacity wells currently operate in that area.

A state appeals court ruled in 2010 that the DNR has broad authority to consider how high-capacity wells might harm the state’s waters. Republican lawmakers reacted by passing a law the following year that prohibits state agencies from imposing any permit conditions that aren’t expressly laid out in state statute. Two months after Gov. Scott Walker signed the law, the state Supreme Court upheld the appellate ruling saying the DNR has general authority. The high court didn’t consider the new law in its deliberations.

Last year, New Chester Dairy filed a lawsuit challenging conditions the DNR attached to a permit for two high-capacity wells at its Adams County facility in the central sands. The agency told the dairy it had to monitor groundwater levels and make quarterly reports.

McGinnis ruled that under the 2011 law, the DNR needs explicit authority to impose such conditions and can’t rely on implied authority.

A DNR spokesman declined comment. Wheeler, Clean Wisconsin’s attorney, said the ruling is a strict interpretation of the law and leaves the DNR without any tools to protect the state’s waters from high-capacity wells.

Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, has introduced a bill that would allow the DNR to impose conditions on high-capacity wells but only to protect navigable waters. If the agency believes a well is depleting surface waters, it could ask legislators for permission to impose stricter conditions.

The measure got a cool reception during a public hearing last month. Conservationists complained the bill is too weak and farmers argue it would inject uncertainty into the permitting process.

Judge allows Chippewa tribes to hunt deer at night in northern Wisconsin

A federal judge has ruled Chippewa tribes can hunt deer at night beginning next month across most of northern Wisconsin, a decision that restores a tribal right lost after the bands gave the land to the government in the 19th century.

The state Department of Natural Resources has long banned hunting deer at night out of safety concerns. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb issued an order Tuesday saying the tribes’ new night hunting regulations are stricter than the state’s rules for shooting wolves and deer at night. The regulations mandate that hunters take a 12-hour training course; hit a 6¼-inch bull’s eye from 100 yards eight out of 10 times in the dark; ensure hunting sites have earthen backstops; and submit shooting plans with safe zones of fire.

The ruling cements those rules in place and clears the way for the tribal night season to run from Nov. 1 to Jan. 4 in the so-called ceded territory, a 22,400 square-mile swath of northern Wisconsin the tribes handed to the U.S. government in 1837 and 1842.

“We’re pretty excited about this opportunity,” said Sue Erickson, a spokeswoman for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, which oversees the Chippewa’s off-reservation treaty rights. “This is giving (the tribes) an expanded opportunity and it is part of their rights.”

DNR officials said they were disappointed with the ruling but would work to inform the public the night hunt is on.

The Chippewa currently hunt deer at night on their reservations, but they’ve pushed for years for a night hunt in the ceded territory. The tribes tried to convince Crabb in 1989 to exempt tribal hunters from the state prohibition during a court fight over treaty rights in the territory. The judge ruled in 1991 that night deer hunting is dangerous and the state ban applies to tribal hunters.

The Chippewa asked Crabb to reconsider in 2012, arguing the state must believe night hunting is safe since lawmakers allowed a night wolf hunt and the DNR instituted night shooting programs to slow chronic wasting disease in the mid-2000s. The tribes also presented their new safety regulations to the judge for approval.

Crabb ruled in 2013 that the tribes had failed to show circumstances had changed enough to reopen the case, but a federal appeals court ordered her to reconsider. It ruled there was little reason to believe safety concerns are a valid reason for denying a tribal night hunt, noting Oregon, Washington, Minnesota and Michigan all allow such hunts and hunting has become safer over the last 20 years. The U.S. Supreme Court refused the state’s request to take the case earlier this year, which put it back in Crabb’s hands.

The judge analyzed the tribes’ regulations in her order Tuesday and concluded they’re much tighter than the rules the state had in place for the night wolf hunt and chronic wasting disease night shoots.

“Now, with the benefit of 24 years of state experience with night hunting, the tribes have been able to show that the prohibition on off-reservation night deer hunting is no longer necessary for public safety purposes, when properly regulated,” the judge wrote.

She took issue with the state’s argument that allowing a tribal night hunt gives the Chippewa a right that the general public doesn’t have. The tribes retained their hunting rights when they handed the territory over to the government in the 1800s and she blocked them in 1991 only because she felt the practice was dangerous, she wrote.

Erickson said she wasn’t sure how many tribal members would ultimately qualify to hunt deer at night.