Transit weapon ban pre-empted by state law
The state Supreme Court overturned an appeals court ruling and sided with a gun rights group Tuesday, ruling that the city of Madison must allow bus passengers to carry concealed weapons.
The ruling, which could be used to challenge other transit systems across the state, concluded that local governments cannot enforce rules that contradict Wisconsin’s concealed-carry law.
The court ruled 5-2, with Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Shirley Abrahamson dissenting. Justice Daniel Kelly wrote the majority opinion.
Wisconsin Carry, a gun rights advocacy group, challenged the administrator of Madison’s Metro Transit in 2014 after it prohibited a passenger with a concealed-carry license from bringing a gun on a bus. The group argued Metro Transit’s policy prohibiting weapons of any kind on buses cannot supersede the state’s concealed-carry law signed by Gov. Scott Walker in 2011. The law allows people to get licenses that allow them to carry a concealed gun. Metro Transit adopted its rule in 2005.
An appeals court sided with the city in 2015, saying that Metro Transit’s rule did not amount to an “ordinance” or “resolution” banning concealed weapons, which the concealed-carry law prohibits. In overturning that ruling, the Supreme Court concluded that passengers can bring firearms or other type weapons on buses, as long as they follow other applicable laws.
Justice Kelly argued that the concealed-carry law’s purpose is to allow the carrying of concealed weapons as broadly and uniformly as possible. He further said that the court must consider the “plain meaning” of the concealed-carry law rather than debate word choice. Following that reasoning, Metro Transit’s rule functions similarly to an ordinance or resolution passed by a municipality banning concealed weapons and therefore is superseded by the concealed-carry law.
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel had filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Wisconsin Carry.
In her dissent joined by Abrahamson, Bradley argued that the majority opinion expanded the law’s intent to fit its purpose. She argued Metro Transit’s policy does not amount to an ordinance or resolution.
Wisconsin Carry President Nik Clark said he people who rely on public transit should be able to carry concealed weapons just as people who drive their own cars.
He expects the ruling to have implications in other Wisconsin cities, both in public transit systems and some public outdoor areas.
“There are other mass transit entities around the state that have prohibitive policies,” he said. “Once we review the decision, we’ll have a better understanding of how far-reaching it is.”
He noted Oshkosh’s GO Transit rider policy currently prohibits firearms and weapons on buses. A GO Transit spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
City of Madison attorney John Strange said the court ignored basic legal principles for a desired result.
“From a public safety perspective, the decision creates greater risk to passengers by allowing guns on moving and crowded buses,” he said.
Metro Transit’s spokesman Mick Rusch said that Metro Transit is concerned about the ruling’s impact on passenger safety but will comply with the law. Rusch said city attorneys were still determining when the ruling will take effect.
Lawyer fights suspension over ‘frivolous’ lawsuits
A Madison attorney is challenging a referee’s recommendations that her license be suspended for a year and pay thousands in restitution over allegations that she filed either frivolous or meritless cases in federal court.
The recommendations stem from an Office of Lawyer Regulation complaint filed in 2013 against Wendy Alison Nora for three counts of alleged misconduct involving her work in a foreclosure case in which she was a defendant. The OLR later added a fourth count.
Nora has continuously fought the claim, even trying to get Dane County Judge Juan Colas removed from the case by filing a discrimination lawsuit against him in federal court, according to the OLR.
Nora also attempted to fight the claim by suing the Milwaukee-based lawyers David Potteiger and William Foshag and their respective firms, Bass & Moglowsky and Gray & Associates, in federal court for $10 billion in compensatory and punitive damages. Foshag and Potteiger and their firms had represented the banks in her foreclosure case, according to the complaint.
The OLR also alleges Nora continued to litigate the foreclosure of her property by filing a federal lawsuit in a New York bankruptcy court. That suit was directed against the same attorneys and firms, plus 25 other defendants. It was filed even though the case had already been resolved in a Wisconsin court and Nora had already filed a nearly identical case in the Western District of Wisconsin.
The OLR sought a one-year suspension of Nora’s law license.
The referee in the disciplinary case, Lisa Goldman, issued a report on Jan. 13 agreeing with the one-year license suspension and finding that Nora had no legitimate purpose in bringing the lawsuits against Colas, Potteiger and Foshag. Goldman also found the lawsuits were meant to harass.
“Unable to accept her own foreclosure and perhaps, unable to accept her own legal mistakes in that case, she started down a path of pillage and plunder until she achieved the result she sought — owning her home free and clear,” wrote Goldman.
Goldman noted that the lawyers and their firms eventually settled the New York bankruptcy case with Nora.
Goldman also recommended that Nora pay more than $50,000 in restitution to Gray & Associates and Bass & Moglowsky.
Of that amount, $15,898.03 would go to Gray & Associates for fees it paid to the Milwaukee-based Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren and Chicago-based Hinshaw & Culbertson. The money was meant to cover defense work done in the lawsuits Nora had filed against the firm in the Western District of Wisconsin and the New York bankruptcy court.
The remaining $8,494.96 would go to Bass & Moglowsky for its defense against the New York bankruptcy suit.
Nora filed a notice on Feb. 1 that she would be appealing Goldman’s report.
A second disciplinary case against Nora is now underway. A referee’s report is due in that case in May. The dispute stems from a complaint from 2015 in which the OLR alleged that Nora had committed five counts of misconduct involving her representation in both state and federal courts of two clients in foreclosure proceedings.
County reaches $1.1M settlement in death
The family of a Walworth County man shot by a sheriff’s deputy has reached a settlement with the county.
The case stems from the death in 2012 of John Brown, who was shot twice by a Walworth County sheriff’s deputy after his mother, Nancy Brown, called police when he locked himself in a room with a knife.
Nancy Brown filed a lawsuit in 2013 in the Eastern District of Wisconsin against the county and the deputies who responded to her call.
The case had been set to go to trial on Jan. 17 before Federal District Judge Lynn Adelman, but the parties reached a $1.1 million settlement a week before trial, according to a news release.
Walworth County and the deputies were represented by Crivello Carlson. Brown was represented by Chicago-based Romanucci & Blandin.
U.S. judge won’t stop Dakota Access pipeline
A federal judge declined Tuesday to temporarily stop construction of the final section of the disputed Dakota Access oil pipeline, clearing the way for oil to flow as soon as next week.
The Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux had asked U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in Washington to direct the Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw permission for Texas-based developer Energy Transfer Partners to lay pipe under Lake Oahe in North Dakota. The stretch under the Missouri River reservoir in southern North Dakota is the last piece of construction for the $3.8 billion pipeline to move North Dakota oil to Illinois.
The tribes argued that construction under the lake violates their right to practice their religion, which relies on clean water, and they wanted the work suspended until the claim could be resolved.
When they filed the lawsuit last summer, the tribes argued that the pipeline threatens Native American cultural sites and their water supply. Their religion argument was new, however, and disputed by both the Corps and the company.
Boasberg in his ruling Tuesday said the tribes didn’t raise the religion argument in a timely fashion.
“Only once Dakota Access had built up to the water’s edge and the Corps had granted the easement (for drilling) to proceed did Cheyenne River inform defendants that the pipeline was the realization of a long-held prophecy about a Black Snake and that the mere presence of oil in the pipeline under the lakebed would interfere with tribe’s members’ ability to engage in important religious practices,” the judge said.
Boasberg said he is likely to allow the tribes to continue making the religion argument, though he doesn’t think it’s likely to succeed.
“Although the tribe’s members may feel unable to use the water from Lake Oahe in their religious ceremonies once the pipeline is operational, there is no specific ban on their religious exercise,” he said.
The judge’s decision came as American Indians from across the country gathered in Washington to protest President Donald Trump’s policies encouraging oil pipelines. Native Americans are planning four days of activities including lobbying lawmakers and culminating in a march on the White House. Tribal members and supporters plan to camp each day on the National Mall, with teepees, a ceremonial fire, cultural workshops and speakers.
In February, Boasberg declined the tribes’ request to order an immediate halt to the pipeline construction, ruling that as long as oil wasn’t flowing through the pipeline, there was no imminent harm to the tribes.
Tribal attorney Nicole Ducheneaux countered in court documents that the mere existence of an oil pipeline under the reservoir the tribes consider to be “sacred waters” violated their right to practice their religion.
The court battle isn’t over, as no final decision has been made on the merits of the tribes’ overall claims. Both tribes also have asked Boasberg to overturn the federal permission for the Lake Oahe crossing and to bar the Corps from granting permission in the future. The judge won’t rule until at least April.