Maryann Sumi Reflects On Act 10 Decision

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Maryann Sumi Reflects On Act 10 Decision

Premiere Date: 
June 27, 2014

The former Dane County Circuit Court judge retired from the bench on May 30.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

But first, who could forget the 2011 protests in and around the state capitol over Act 10? When tens of thousands of people swarmed the seat of government in the aftermath of the swiftly enacted law that did away with most collective bargaining for public employees. One person in particular was at the very epicenter of the uproar. Dane County judge Maryann Sumi struck down Act 10, a ruling ultimately overturned by the pressured state Supreme Court. Did the vitriol that resulted in a most polarized Wisconsin result in Judge Sumi stepping down from the bench after serving 16 years? We ask her. Maryann Sumi retired last month. She joins us tonight, and thanks very much for doing so.

Maryann Sumi:

You're welcome.

Frederica Freyberg:

So why did you leave the bench before your term was up?

Maryann Sumi:

Well, I love my job, and I loved it until the very last day, May 30. That being said, 16 years is a long time and it's thousands of cases. And as challenging and rewarding as the job is, ultimately one cannot do that job forever. And I wanted to leave it while I loved it. And I wanted to leave when I had the enthusiasm and energy to do whatever happens next.

Frederica Freyberg:

We asked the question in the lead did the vitriol of those times pre, during and post Act 10 have anything to do with your decision?

Maryann Sumi:

Not at all. In fact, if that had been true, I would have resigned in the first year or two after that decision was issued. But no. All decisions are hard, for one reason or another. This was a particularly difficult, because of the spotlight that I was in, but it was-- It was something that I was prepared for.

Frederica Freyberg:

Let's take a look at what led to your most public ruling, that being on Act 10.  

Man:

No! Listen--

Man 2:

Call the roll.

Man:

--the governmental body should provide 24 hours notice. This is clearly a violation of the open meetings law. You’ve been shutting people down. It is improper to move forward while this is a violation of the open meetings law.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, you found that it was a violation of the open meetings law.

Maryann Sumi:

Yes.

Frederica Freyberg:

So what was the reaction to the state Supreme Court overturning that decision of yours?

Maryann Sumi:

Well, as you may know, it was a 4-3 decision along fairly predictable lines. I wasn't-- You know, we get overturned. We get affirmed. We just deal with it. They are the Supreme Court. I was a little surprised by the way it fractured the court, leading to, as we've all heard, one justice attempting to choke another. That was probably the most dismaying thing for me, is the -- Not so much that they overturned my decision, but that everything became so polarized.

Frederica Freyberg:

Let me ask, just going back to the decision, do you think the Supreme Court got it wrong?

Maryann Sumi:

I do, I do. And I think that the Supreme Court, as is their right, interpreted the law in a way that up until that time it had not been interpreted. Our state is all about transparency in government. That's what we do. That's what ensures the integrity of the process, from the lowest town board of podunk up to the Wisconsin legislature. Everything is transparent and open. So I thought with our Supreme Court's decision we took a step backwards from that. I hasten to say now that it's a closed case, I can talk about it. Of course, while the case was pending, I couldn't talk at all about it.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, the hostile reaction on both sides of Act 10, and threats and accusations directed at you and your family even in the midst of this prompted your husband to write a letter to the newspaper that many of us remember clearly.  He said, “The vitriol has reached unseemly extremes and it is undermining the important rule of government and serving the public interest.”

Do you think that's still true today?

Maryann Sumi:

I think that it hasn't diminished as much as I would have hoped. The judiciary is not red and blue. It's meant to be apart from and above, really, the down and dirty politics. It's meant to be all about the rule of law. And I think-- I think we've lost a bit of that. And I hope it returns.

Frederica Freyberg:

And, you know, so many of the laws we've seen passed are now ending up in the courts. And I don't think there's anything necessarily new about that, but it seems like there are a lot of them right now. And every time they do and decisions are made, you hear the blogosphere or talk radio or whatever saying, oh, well, they made that decision because they're a Democrat or they made it because they're a Republican. How much does that hurt you as a judge who worked so tirelessly all these years?

Maryann Sumi:

Well, you have to ignore it. You have to just try to rise above it and remember the rule of law. When I was going through that very challenging time, I remember going to the law library and finding the original edition of the Supreme Court's ruling in Marbury versus Madison. Even with the funny S’s and F’s, the way things were written back then. That's the case that says the judiciary has the right and the duty to determine the validity of laws.

Frederica Freyberg:

Judge Maryann Sumi, thanks very much.

Maryann Sumi:

You're welcome. 


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