In an unwarrantedly abusive and ultimately embarrassing (for her) column, former legal counsel and chief of staff to the Assembly speaker and current chief of staff to the Waukesha County executive Ellen Nowak went off yesterday on both Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi and on the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
Do not be fooled: Ms. Nowak's screed is bogus to the core.
As currently featured on the Instaputz
Unsurprisingly, local wing-nuts Charlie Sykes* and Patrick McIlheran fell for it. More surprisingly, so did Marquette University professor of law Rick Esenberg (by whose blog post the inexplicably popular Ann Althouse was duped, thus returning us to unsurprising territory).
Since then Ms. Nowak's intemperate accusations — which would be at least low comedy if they weren't so gobsmackingly negligent — have gone wing-nut national, all the way into the Prof. Instaputz Pajamas.
Anyway, advises Ellen Nowak: "Let's focus on the heart of the defendants' (and the unions [sic]) dispute: whether the conference committee meeting was properly noticed." "It was," claims Nowak.
She goes on: "The rules governing procedure of the legislative houses are also set at the beginning of each session. Those rules include certain procedures when a special or extraordinary is called."
Now pay close attention, because these are Nowak's money quotes:
Here, the relevant rules are Senate Rule 93(3) [sic] and its counterpart, Assembly Rule 93(3). They state: "no notice of hearing before a committee shall be required other than posting on the legislative bulletin board."Except that isn't what they state at all. Firstly, the two Rules are not identical, they're merely similar; and secondly, even if Nowak was offering a paraphrase — which she obviously isn't, as her faux rendering is enclosed in quotation marks — it's still wildly inaccurate.
State's top law enforcement officer should know
I suppose we can all forgive a former Assembly counsel for providing the incorrect citation to a Senate rule but no counsel can be so easily absolved of completely misquoting or presenting obsolete renderings of both of the Rules. That is appalling, truly. What they do read are as follows, respectively, according to their most recent adoptions:**
Senate Rule 93(2):And:
A notice of a committee meeting is not required other than posting on the legislative bulletin board, and a bulletin of committee hearings may not be published.
Assembly Rule 93(3):That also happens to be the version of Senate Rule 93(2) that Wisconsin's attorney general cites and quotes in his petition for leave to appeal, filed with the court of appeals yesterday (see the AG's Footnote 11: the AG, it must be "noticed," represents both the current Senate Majority Leader and the current Assembly Leader, the Bros. Fitzgerald, so presumably they're all up on the current Rules).
A notice of hearings before committees is not required other than posting on the legislative bulletin boards, and a schedule of committee activities need not be published.
Thus is Novak's hyperbolic tirade not only itself obsolete, but arguably ... I'm not going to say it, out of professional courtesy, exactly the sort of courtesy not extended to Judge Sumi by Ms. Nowak (Judge Sumi "ignored the law" and "assault[ed] ... the judiciary and the legislature," asserts Counselor Nowak, leading the wing-nut parade).
In short, the alleged inconsistency is entirely manufactured
Of course "notice" has more than one meaning. Even lawyers know this; that's why their dictionaries contain multiple definitions for the same term. In one sense, "notice" has a temporal element, as in, "I'm giving you (fair) notice," where the notice precedes some event.
And in another sense, it doesn't: a notice is a printed message, a bulletin. And the latter is what's meant by the legislative Rules indented above. Therefore does the claim fail that Wis. Stat. §19.87(2),*** which resolves conflicts between legislative Rules and other Wisconsin statutes, is in play, because there is no conflict.
That is, the Open Meetings Law command contained in Wis. Stat. §19.84(3)**** that "in no case may the notice be provided less than 2 [two] hours in advance of the meeting" is perfectly consistent with the legislative Rules, which direct where the — physical, not temporal — notice must be affixed: "on the legislative bulletin board(s)."
Notice (pun intended) that in both Rules, it's "A notice." Not just "notice" or, as Ms. Nowak puts it, "no notice," whose remarkably irresponsible inaccuracy purports to imbue the Rule with the temporal element required by Nowak's (alleged) argument, a temporal element that simply is not there. It's a shameful performance all around.
And, as noted earlier in this here space, the assistant attorney general representing the Brothers Fitzgerald et al conceded in court not only that the defendants Fitzgerald cannot demonstrate the two-hour requirement was met, but admitted the likelihood that requirement was not met, specifically by as much as three minutes.
That does not bode well for the FitzWalkerAG's case. And neither does this. Hence the spreading desperation, is what I suspect.
* "See Ellen Nowak's excellent piece at SykesWrites. It addresses the kind of fallacious logic advanced by Free Lunch." — George Mitchell.
Hilarious and sad. Free Lunch is a frequent visitor and commenter at this blog and is hardly known to employ any kind of "fallacious logic."
** A fact confirmed this morning by the Legislative Reference Bureau. That's how much I couldn't believe my own eyes, to the extent I actually had to pick up the phone and call somebody for directions.
*** "No provision of this subchapter [subchapter V] which conflicts with a rule of the senate or assembly or joint rule of the legislature shall apply to a meeting conducted in compliance with such rule."
**** "Public notice of every meeting of a governmental body shall be given at least 24 hours prior to the commencement of such meeting unless for good cause such notice is impossible or impractical, in which case shorter notice may be given, but in no case may the notice be provided less than 2 hours in advance of the meeting."
Judge Sumi: We're not talking about the legislature enforcing its own rules, we're talking about the legislature obeying a law that gives people public access to government.
AAG Lazar: Correct.
Judge Sumi: It's not an internal rule, it's a vastly external expectation — [a] right — that people have under the Open Meetings Law.
AAG Lazar: Absolutely correct. [Momentary discussion of §19.87(2) and the Senate and Assembly Rules 93] [W]hen they're in special session, all that is required is a notice on the bulletin board and that is what was done and they are able to drop it down to that two-hour from 24-hour and we would contend in this case that that was met ...
Both the judge and the AAG are in accord, together with Rules 93: "A written or printed announcement." — Black's Law Dictionary, 7th ed.