Late last week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court dealt a stern rebuke to Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas. Acting at government union bosses’ behest, Colas has been trying for more than year to block enforcement across the state of key provisions in a 2010 budget reform known as Act 10. Among the provisions targeted by Big Labor and Colas is one restoring the Right to Work of most public employees without being forced to pay union dues or fees and another sharply limiting the scope of most government union bosses’ monopoly-bargaining privileges.
Colas has claimed up to now that, although he only has legal jurisdiction in Dane County, he somehow has the power to prevent the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) from enforcing anywhere in the state the Act 10 provisions he has declared on novel grounds to be unconstitutional.
Earlier this fall, Colas went so far as to issue a contempt order to force the WERC to obey his order not to enforce Act 10 in any workplace employing local public servants anywhere in Wisconsin, even though the Supreme Court had already agreed to hear an appeal of the order.
Last Thursday, a 5-2 court majority explained to Colas one reason why he had no authority to issue the contempt order against WERC, and vacated it. Despite a shrill and long-winded dissent by Big Labor-friendly Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and her most loyal ally on the court, Justice Ann Bradley, Wisconsin legal precedents clearly prohibit circuit judges from issuing contempt orders in cases that are no longer before them. In his news account (see link below), Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel quoted from the majority opinion:
The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled the contempt finding was improper because it “expanded the scope of the judgment that is before us on appeal.”
“Once an appeal had been perfected, the circuit court should not have taken any action that significantly altered its judgment,” the majority wrote. “Accordingly, in order to assure the orderly administration of justice in the pending appeal, we elect to apply our superintending authority and vacate the circuit court’s contempt order.”
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has yet to rule on Judge Colas’ original September 2012 decision overturning key provisions of Act 10. In this case, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty have teamed up to represent the interests of public-school teachers who do not wish to be corralled into a union.
State high court overturns contempt orders against labor commissioners