Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald was warned by legal representatives of three separate state agencies that ordering state troopers to forcibly return senate democrats to Madison would place his actions in a zone “outside the law”, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. The Journal has obtained memos and e-mail from Fitzgerald’s office and the office of Sergeant-at-Arms Ted Blazel through a public records request.
Fitzgerald now admits in an interview with the Journal that his efforts to compel the Democrats back to the State House were “a mess” and that when he tried to give a statewide order for law enforcement to arrest the missing lawmakers, “There was no cop in the state that would enforce it.”
It was Fitzgerald who issued the controversial “call of the House” on February 17th, when Democratic senators fled the state to avoid a vote on Governor Scott Walker’s bill curbing the collective bargaining rights of public employees. Three days after the walkout, Fitzgerald ordered state troopers to the residence of Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller, who wasn’t at home. This prompted a dialogue between Fitzgerald’s office and Wisconsin’s Legislative Council and Legislative Reference Bureau concerning the legality of the Fitzgerald’s actions.
The Majority Leader’s office, however, sent troopers to state senators homes again four days later. It was when Fitzgerald attempted to use statewide police warrant verification network to issue an official “Order to Detain” the Democrats that the Wisconsin Department of Justice urged the Majority Leader and the Senate to drop the order rather than force law enforcement personnel to carry out acts that would ultimately prove to be illegal.
The State Journal:“We would strongly recommend that you attempt to get the Senate’s Order to Detain out of the system, i.e. to the extent possible indicate publicly that it has been withdrawn so that law enforcement do not rely upon it and attempt to enforce it, thereby creating unnecessary liability exposure to them and the state,” Kevin Potter, an assistant attorney general, said in a March 4 email.
Fitzgerald refused to back down. It was only when the Senate stripped out certain provisions of the bill allowing the Republicans to pass it with or without Democratic participation that the Majority Leader’s office stopped trying to pressure state law enforcement to compel the Democrats back to Madison.
Fitzgerald said he continued to try to find ways to bring the missing lawmakers back to the capitol even when he knew that it was a futile endeavor. Nonetheless, he states that he has no regrets about his handling of the situation.
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