Right-to-Work Lawsuit Moves Forward

By: Brian Johnson
By: Brian Johnson

It was a short day in court, about thirty minutes, and Circuit Court Judge William Collette made his decision. The ACLU has the right to gather all the facts to support their position.

"We intend to aggressively pursue all avenues of discovery to determine exactly what happened. Who ordered what, when these things occurred and to establish the culpability," said Michael Pitt, an attorney representing the ACLU.

Inside the courtroom the judge posed the question, what constitutes access? Even thought the Capitol doors were closed for a time, some might argue people still had access to the proceedings through Facebook, Twitter and, as the state argues, live Michigan Government TV.

"Certainly we are disappointed because we do expect that the Right-to-work law will stand and that this lawsuit will fail," said Joy Yearout, a spokesperson for Attorney General Bill Schuette. "We are happy to cooperate and the judge has every right to request additional evidence before he makes his decision. He made it very clear on the record that there's a high bar here."

The judge told the ACLU lawyers he didn't know if they have a good case or not but they certainly have an uphill battle.

"I've heard that from judges for 39 years as a lawyer and somehow I've been able to climb uphill and win the cases," said Pitt.

The state trooper responsible for closing the Capitol was in the courtroom Wednesday. The state and state Troopers said they closed the doors for safety, but the ACLU argues something else.

"There are photographs taken at 1:30 pm on December 6 throughout the entire capitol building. One of our witnesses was there with a camera and those photos reveal that it's basically a ghost town inside that building. There was absolutely no safety risk that we could see from those photographs," said Pitt.

The ACLU said it will find out if any conversations occurred between Republican lawmakers and police. The Attorney General's office would not comment if any conversations occurred.

"The bottom line is the doors were ultimately reopened and nothing happened in secret that day," said Yearout.

Judge Collette said this case, like many others, is built on circumstantial evidence citing news articles that said republicans had staffers fill as many seats as possible to prevent more people from coming in the House gallery.

"There were 175-200 seats in the gallery and no one is alleging from the plaintiff's perspective that all of those seats were taken up by members of employees of the House," said Michelle Brya, an attorney representing Michigan.

"The public was excluded from the process as the court pointed out. It's the first time in the history of the state of Michigan that the doors of the capitol were locked," said Pitt.

Yearout said ACLU's argument doesn't hold water.

"If you bring a thousand people and try to shove them into a building and as a result they can't fit and as a result, the actions of that board become invalid--it's impractical and that's not what the [Open Meetings Act] says." said Yearout.

The state stands by the troopers decision to close the Capitol for safety reasons--citing at least one medical emergency--- and that the large crowds slowed emergency responders.

"There was at least one medical emergency where the crowds in the building limited the ability of emergency responders to reach the victim. She was eventually taken to safety outside the building, but there were serious concerns about safety in the building at the time," said Yearout

The ACLU disagreed.

"The legislature was hell-bent to evade the responsibilities that it had to provide full access to the public," said Pitt.

The state will now file a response to the lawsuit by Monday. Next Thursday the parties will establish a timeline and schedule for the case to proceed.


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