Secrecy Shrouds Teachers’ Union Court Hearing

MacIver News Service | April 19, 2011

[Madison, Wisc.] Taxpayers trying to follow the curious case of the Madison teachers’ job action that closed down the district’s 48 schools for four days in February will get an incomplete picture from official court documents.

Official (partial) transcript of February 18th hearing

There is no official court record of the beginning of the February 18th court hearing during which Madison Metropolitan School District requested an injunction to end its teachers’ sickout. The MacIver News Service has learned that Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi began that hearing without a court reporter present.

On Friday, February 18th,the Madison sickout had been going on for three days, and the district was looking for ways to force teachers back into the classroom.

“As I understand it, MTI communicated that the teachers would be back Tuesday but had no assurances for Monday, and so the district went forward with the legal action on Friday afternoon,” wrote Ed Hughes, Madison Board of Education member, on his blog. “It took some time to find a judge who could hear the motion, but Judge Sumi took the matter on late Friday afternoon.”

Tara Monthie, a court reporter, was on her way out when she got called back to record the hearing.

“It was odd,” Monthie told the MacIver News Service. “I got there and it had already started.”

At that point, Judge Sumi stopped Lester Pines, Madison Teachers Inc. Legal Counsel, who was presenting his argument.

“We were in the middle of Mr. Pines’ response.  I’m going to let you finish that, and then we’ll go back to Ms. Pauli,” Sumi said, according to the official transcript, which begins in the midst of the hearing. “And even before we do that, let me have the appearances stated once again so the court reporter has them.”

The court reporter missed the district’s opening argument, in which it laid out its case that the teachers were on strike and that it was negatively impacting the students. The transcript begins with Pines’ argument that the job action was not a strike.

“It is not unheard of for argument to be off record,” said  Rick Essenberg President of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty and an instuctor at the Marquette University Law School. “But it is somewhat curious in a case of this magnitude.”

The MacIver News Service obtained the partial transcript from the Dane County Circuit Court Tuesday.

The transcript is 15 pages long.  Two of those pages are cover sheets.  Four and half pages contain MTI’s argument.  Two pages contain MMSD’s rebuttal.  The rest of the transcript document’s Sumi’s comments and decision.

Sumi decided to deny the district an injunction, because she agreed with MTI’s argument the sickout was not a strike.