Sunday, March 20, 2011


Last week was Sunshine Week. It is especially fitting that on Friday Judge Maryann Sumi issued a stay of Wisconsin's controversial bill that would limit the collective bargaining rights of most state workers, on the grounds that the lawmakers violated the state's Open Meetings Law.
In her ruling, Sumi said that Wisconsin residents own their government.

"And we own it in three ways," she ruled. "We own it by the vote. We own it by the duty to provide open and public access to records, so that the activities of government can be monitored. And we own it in that we are entitled by law to free and open access to governmental meetings, and especially governmental meetings that lead to the resolution of very highly conflicted and controversial matters.

 "That’s our right. And a violation of that right is tantamount to a violation of what is already provided in the Constitution, open doors, open access, and that nothing in this government happens in secret."

Sumi went on to quote the late William A. Bablitch, a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice: "An open meetings law is not necessary to ensure openness in easy and noncontroversial matters where no one really cares whether the meeting is open or not. Like the First Amendment, which exists to protect unfavored speech, the Open Meetings Law exists to ensure open government in controversial matters. The Open Meetings Law functions to ensure that these difficult matters are decided without bias or regard for issues such as race, gender, or economic status, and with highest regard for the interests of the community. This requires, with very few exceptions, that governmental meetings be held in full view of the community.”

A district attorney had brought the Open Meetings complaint, alleging that Republicans did not observe the 24-hour public notice requirement before convening a conference committee. Democratic legislators had fled the state in an attempt to halt passage of the bill. Sumi ruled that the public did not have ample time to attend the meeting.