In putting out a caustic press release on Wednesday, did Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) inadvertently help Attorney General Josh Kaul’s office make its case that the Republican-controlled legislature is crossing lines separating legislative and executive branches of power? The release from the two Joint Finance Committee (JFC) co-chairs, shared below, certainly implies they want Kaul to run case information he shares with the public past them first.
A case currently before the Supreme Court over the December lame-duck session, during which the Republican-controlled legislature took powers away from the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general, focuses on whether the lame duck law is a violation of the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches.
The lawsuit brought by the Service Employees International Union over Act 369–the official name of the lame-duck laws–hinges on whether the law “violates that guarantee by giving members of the legislative branch authority to approve (or not approve) the resolution of certain cases involving the State.”
In one of the filed briefs, Kaul and his attorneys argue Act 369 “radically alters” the framework for litigation in giving JFC an approval role in the Department of Justice (DOJ) job of settling lawsuits.
“The Wisconsin Constitution establishes three separate branches of government, with ‘no branch subordinate to the other…and no branch to exercise the power committed by the constitution to another,” reads the brief.
Here is the background: Kaul asked JFC members to sign non-disclosure agreements before he discussed a case with them. Going into closed session to talk about ongoing settlement negotiations would not guarantee confidentiality, he argued, and refused to share further details unless the confidentiality forms were signed. JFC members objected, and hired a private attorney in an attempt to avoid the confidentiality issue. For now, the matter is at a standstill.
Tuesday, Kaul announced Wisconsin was not among the 23 states that will accept the terms of a proposed settlement deal with Purdue Pharma over its role in creating the opioid addiction crisis. Kaul explained he felt the deal does not go far enough in getting justice for Wisconsin.
Wednesday, his spokeswoman confirmed that the case in question when the confidentiality form dispute erupted was the settlement discussion with Purdue Pharma. The reason Kaul discussed the case publicly on Wednesday, she said, was that the proposed settlement had been made public as 23 states and other groups announced they reached a tentative settlement with Purdue.
Judging by the release, the JFC co-chairs were clearly unhappy to learn about the settlement along with the public.
The Darling/Nygren release follows in full:
Finance Co-Chairs Statement on AG’s Comments on Purdue Pharma Case
[Madison, WI] – On Wednesday, the Co-Chairs of the Joint Committee on Finance issued the following statement regarding Attorney General Kaul’s comments on not accepting the settlement in the Purdue Pharma case.
“Through media reports, the attorney general stated Wisconsin is not one of the states agreeing to settle the Purdue Pharma case at this time. We hope those reporters have signed non-disclosure agreements, because they are getting ‘confidential’ information from the attorney general that he refused to share with members of the Joint Committee on Finance.
“It’s clear the attorney general did not need signed secrecy agreements to share case information. Now we know there wasn’t an ’emergency’ settlement to present to the committee two weeks ago. The attorney general should stop playing games, follow the law, and work with the Joint Committee on Finance.”