Bloomberg News

Wisconsin Top Court Refuses to Reopen Labor Law Challenge

July 06, 2012

Wisconsin’s top court declined to reopen a legal challenge to Governor Scott Walker’s curb on the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

The law, backed by Walker, requires annual recertification votes for public employee union representation and makes dues- payment voluntary. It sparked public protests and a recall election that Walker, a Republican, won last month.

A divided state Supreme Court today deadlocked 3-3 on a vote to reopen the case, rejecting Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne’s assertion that a seventh justice, Michael Gableman, should have disqualified himself from hearing it. The court last year upheld the law 4 to 3 with Gableman in the majority. A tie vote would have let stand a lower-court ruling invalidating the statute.

Gableman failed to disclose he’d received free legal counsel from a law firm that was then defending the collective bargaining measure, Ozanne said in a December filing. The justice refused to step back from the case.

Ozanne claimed that Republican legislators crafted the measure in violation of a state open-meetings law. Wisconsin’s capital, Madison, is the Dane County seat.

“We determine that Justice Gableman made the required subjective determination that he could be impartial in the case and that it would appear that he could act in an impartial manner,” three justices said in a three-paragraph decision.

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, joined by two other judges in a 44-paragraph dissent, disagreed, saying Gableman himself misstated the grounds for the prosecutor’s request.

“Nowhere in Justice Gableman’s order is there any reference to payment (or absence of payment) for legal services,” Abrahamson said, adding his decision failed to demonstrate whether he could, or whether it appeared he could, be impartial.

The statute is also under attack in federal court.

The case is Ozanne v. Fitzgerald, 2011AP613-LV, Wisconsin Supreme Court (Madison).

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in Chicago at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at

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