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UPDATED: Did Judge Juan Colas' Family Ties Influence His Decision On Act 10?

Comments | Posted in News | By Nick Novak | Posted January 30, 2014 12:00 AM

*Photo courtesy of Elena Colas' Facebook page. Pictured in photo from the left: Amy Colas, Grace Colas, Judge Juan Colas, Elena Colas

The Daughter of Dane County Judge Juan Colas Works for the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee

January 30, 2014

UPDATE:

[Madison, Wisc...] The MacIver Institute reached out to Judge Juan Colas' office for comment on Tuesday before publishing the original article and heard back on Wednesday.

"My policy is that I don't comment on pending cases that are before me," Judge Colas told the MacIver Institute when he was asked for comment about his daughter working for the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee. Colas did tell MacIver that he had recused himself from previous cases, but could not recall the circumstances for doing so.

Original article posted at 12:00AM on January 29, 2014

[Madison, Wisc...] A MacIver Institute investigation has uncovered that Grace Colas, the daughter of Dane County Judge Juan Colas, works for the campaign arm of the Wisconsin Assembly Democrats.

Judge Colas has been at the center of the continuing legal controversy surrounding Act 10, Governor Scott Walker's attempt to reform collective bargaining in Wisconsin. Union critics of Governor Walker have called Act 10 an attack on worker's rights and they have sued the Governor in an attempt to have the law ruled unconstitutional.

Grace Colas' employer, the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee, regularly receives financial support from the teacher's union and its affiliates that have been parties in the case her father is ruling over.

During his time presiding over the Act 10 case, the MacIver Institute has not been able to find any public record of Judge Colas disclosing his family's connection to the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee.

After working for Democrat Jim Doyle at the Department of Justice for fifteen years, then-Governor Doyle appointed Colas as a judge in the Dane County Circuit Court in 2008.

In August of 2011, Madison Teachers, Inc (MTI) and Public Employees Local 61 (an AFL-CIO chapter in Milwaukee) sued Governor Scott Walker, claiming Act 10 violated their freedom of speech, the right to free association, and the right to equal representation under the law.

In September of 2012, Judge Colas issued his first decision in the unions' case against Walker and Act 10. He declared Wisconsin's collective bargaining law unconstitutional in part because he agrees that the law would "single out and encumber the rights of those employees who choose union membership and representation solely because of that association and therefore infringe upon the rights of free speech and association."

At the time, some critics argued that Colas' decision stretched the limits of his authority as a circuit court judge.

Rick Esenberg, a constitutional expert and president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, wrote that Colas "conflates the right to organize with collective bargaining." Esenberg pointed out that there is no inherent right to collectively bargain.

Democrats in general supported Colas' decision and have worked to overturn Act 10.

Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison), released this statement on Colas' ruling: "Governor Walker's attempt to paint this fair and balanced decision as the result of liberal judicial activism is ridiculous." Grace Colas was an intern with Rep. Taylor and a volunteer with Rep. Taylor's campaign at the time of the statement according to Grace's LinkedIn profile. Rep. Taylor made no mention of her office's connection to Judge Colas in the statement.

Was Colas' decision motivated by partisan politics?

While the lawsuit was initiated by MTI and Local 61, it has been "funded by the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) and the National Education Association (NEA)," according to a press release from WEAC.

WEAC has also donated to the campaign of Rep. Chris Taylor and to the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee (ADCC). According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign database, Rep. Taylor received a $500.00 campaign contribution from WEAC in July of 2011 and again in May of 2012, the same month Grace started to volunteer for Rep. Taylor's campaign.

According to campaign finance documents, Grace began working for the ADCC in June of 2013. On a recent email, Grace listed herself as "ADCC Finance Assistant." The ADCC is the campaign arm of the State Assembly Democrats, "committed to electing more Democrats to the State Assembly." The ADCC helps "candidates with technical advice on strategy, targeting, fundraising as well as messaging and media planning" according to their website.

The ADCC benefits financially from union contributions, including the parties to the lawsuit over Act 10.

The ADCC has received $172,850 from WEAC since 1993 and $17,500 from MTI since 2002. WEAC's last contribution to ADCC was on May 8, 2013 for $3,000. MTI's last contribution was on May 2, 2013 for $1,500. Both contributions came just one month before Grace was hired.

Four months after Grace started at the ADCC, on October 22, 2013, Judge Colas made another union-friendly decision. He ruled that the state commissioners at the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission were in contempt and could not hold recertification elections for local school district unions.

Judge Colas claimed his original ruling applied statewide, not just to the unions that had filed suit. The Wisconsin Supreme Court disagreed. His contempt order was overturned on a 5-2 ruling and recertification elections were held November 29th to December 19th of last year.

Shortly after Colas' October 22nd decision, the ADCC received another union-backed contribution. Green Bay PAC, the political action arm of the Green Bay Education Association, reported a $500 donation to the ADCC on October 30th, according to their expenditure records filed with the GAB.

Now the state's collective bargaining law is in the hands of the Supreme Court. Oral arguments were heard in November and a decision is expected in late spring or early summer.