MADISON, Wis. (AP) — One of former Gov. Scott Walker’s appointees tried Thursday to return to her job after a state appellate court stayed a court ruling that her appointment and dozens of others were invalid — only to be turned away at the door.
Ellen Nowak tried to return to her job as chairwoman of the Public Service Commission on Thursday morning along with her assistant, Bob Seitz. A security guard stopped both of them and a human resources manager appeared and took them into a private room. When they emerged Nowak said she had been told that Gov. Tony Evers’ administration doesn’t believe the stay reinstates the Walker appointees.
“Now I’ll go home and walk my dog, I guess,” Nowak said. “It’s really unfortunate we’re at this stage.”
Republican senators confirmed Nowak’s appointment along with 81 other Walker appointees during a lame-duck session in December. GOP legislators also passed a sweeping package of legislation during the session that limits Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul’s powers. The laws prevent Evers from pulling the state out of lawsuits without legislative approval and prohibit Kaul from settling cases without legislative approval. The measures also give the Legislature the right to intervene in lawsuits using their own attorneys rather than Kaul’s Department of Justice lawyers. In the past lawmakers needed a judge’s permission to join cases.
The laws are designed to weaken Evers and Kaul, who are both Democrats, and ensure Republicans can defend state laws that Evers and Kaul don’t support in court. The lame-duck session has sparked multiple lawsuits from Democrats and their allies.
Dane County Circuit Richard Niess ruled last week that Republicans convened the session illegally because it wasn’t on the floor period schedule the Legislature approved at the beginning at the 2017-19 biennium. The ruling stemmed from an action that liberal-leaning groups including the League of Women Voters filed in February.
After the ruling, Evers immediately ordered Kaul to withdraw from a multistate lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act and the next day rescinded the Walker appointees.
But the 3rd District Court of Appeals granted Republicans’ request for a stay of Niess’ ruling on Wednesday, creating questions about whether the appointees now have their jobs back.
Republican lawmakers’ attorney Misha Tseytlin said in an email to The Associated Press that the stay means the appointees are legally back in their jobs.
He sent a letter Thursday to Evers’ attorneys suggesting the governor is violating the stay by not allowing the appointees back to work. He wrote that the appeals court specifically noted in its stay that irreparable injury could result from not enforcing potentially valid appointments. He said that mention of the appointments makes it “clear beyond any doubt that the Court of Appeals intended these ‘potentially valid appointments’ to be put back in place.”
“It is a very serious matter for the Governor of this State to violate an unambiguous court order issued by the Court of Appeals,” Tseytlin wrote.
Jeffrey Mandell, an attorney for the liberal groups that brought the lawsuit, declined comment. Evers’ attorney, Lester Pines, didn’t immediately respond to an email.
Despite the stay, key portions of the lame-duck laws remain blocked. Another Dane County judge, Frank Remington, issued a preliminary injunction in a separate case Monday that blocks sections of the laws that limit Evers and Kaul’s powers, including the language barring Evers from pulling out of lawsuits. Remington found those provisions violate the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches.