Testimony and emails shed light on right-to-work turmoil.
Michigan's right-to-work laws should be struck down because there was a concerted effort to prevent the public from witnessing the laws' passage — including the locking of doors to the Capitol and directing Republican staffers to fill seats in the public gallery, attorneys for the Michigan ACLU argue in court papers filed Wednesday.
The 2013 lawsuit on behalf of the Michigan AFL-CIO and other unions and two Democratic state representatives, originally filed in Ingham County Circuit Court, is now in the Michigan Court of Claims. It alleges violations of Michigan's Open Meetings Act during two turmoil-filled days of legislative action at the Capitol in December 2012, after Gov. Rick Snyder did an about-face in announcing he would support fast-tracked legislation on right to work.
Thousands of union supporters demonstrated inside and outside the seat of state government in Lansing and were met by more than 100 police officers, some on horseback. State troopers used pepper spray in some instances, made a few arrests and on the first day of debate, Dec. 6, shut off access to the Capitol for several hours, saying they were concerned about security and public safety.
The State of Michigan and other defendants, through the Attorney General's Office, have denied in court filings that any violations of the Open Meetings Act took place during passage of right-to-work legislation, which makes it illegal to require financial support for a union as a condition of employment.
But in Wednesday's motion, the plaintiffs cite e-mails, text messages and sworn deposition testimony in asking the court to rule that the law was violated.
"There is no question that the Michigan Capitol was closed and locked for more than 4½ hours on Dec. 6, 2012, while the House and Senate were in session," says the motion for summary disposition.
The doors to the Capitol weren't re-opened until right-to-work opponents obtained a court order from an Ingham Court judge late in the afternoon.
"It is undisputed that there was a deliberate and concerted effort to exclude the public from the legislative sessions on Dec. 6, 2012, and Dec. 11, 2012, by stacking the galleries with legislative staff members and others so that interested citizens could not observe the legislative proceedings," the filing said.
Among the e-mails introduced as evidence is one sent on the morning of Dec. 6 by Peter Langley, director of the Senate Majority Policy Office, which reads: "The House is having Republican staff report to the House gallery for the day — something to consider for our side."
On the afternoon of Dec. 10, the day before the second and final day of legislative action on right to work, House Republican constituent relations worker Ralph Fiebig Jr. sent an e-mail to all constituent relations staff that said:
"Please meet me no later than 6:55 a.m. at the north entrance to the Capitol building...
"I would like everyone to get there before 6:55 a.m. in case they allow us to enter before 7 a.m. That way, we may be able to get up the stairs to the gallery entrance and in the front line before the public is allowed to enter the building."
In a deposition, Fiebig denied there was a concerted effort to have Republican staffers fill the public gallery so others couldn't get seats, saying he wrote the e-mail "to help out coworkers in my session that may be going there."
But text messages from Republican staffers also have been introduced as evidence, including one sent Dec. 6 by Republican staffer Jennifer Kaminski, which said: "Speaker had staff go sit in the gallery this morning to take up space."
Suzanne Miller Allen, who was then House Speaker Jase Bolger's chief of staff, but left the Legislature for a job with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, testified in a deposition that GOP leadership was "very concerned about security" and "staff wanted to go to the gallery to go and help defuse what we thought could be a potentially volatile situation in the gallery."
But Allen denied there was an effort to fill all the more than 150 House gallery seats with Republican staffers and estimated that no more than 20 to 30 went there.
Named as defendants in the suit are the State of Michigan, the House of Representatives, the Senate and Capt. Kevin McGaffigan of the Michigan State Police, who reportedly gave the order to lock the Capitol doors.
The defendants have argued that no violation of the law occurred because the public and lawmakers were always able to communicate with each other, media were present to report on the proceedings and temporarily locking the doors was necessary for public safety.