MADISON, Wisc. (CN) - Signature review of recall petitions against Gov. Scott Walker may go faster now that a state appeals court reversed and remanded a circuit court order to change the verification procedures.
Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four state senators, including Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, are facing voter recalls spurred by Walker's so-called 2011 "budget bill" that drastically curtailed the rights and powers of public employees unions.
Several recall committees appealed a circuit court order that denied their motion to intervene in a lawsuit Walker's campaign committee brought against the state's Government Accountability Board, which oversees the recall process.
A three-judge panel of the state's 4th District Court of Appeals unanimously overturned the Waukesha County Court order on Monday.
Waukesha County Judge Mac Davis had ruled that the Government Accountability Board would have to change its verification and certification procedures and search recall petitions for duplicate or fictitious names such as Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse and Adolf Hitler.
Judge Davis denied recall committees' request to intervene and provide testimony, in an oral order of Jan. 5, followed by a written order on Jan. 20.
So the Government Accountability Board adopted new procedures, bought new signature-recognition software and asked for more time to review the recall petitions.
Recall committees appealed, stating that under Wisconsin law, the official being bears the burden of challenging signatures.
The recall committees claimed Judge Davis had misinterpreted Wis. Stat. sec. 9.10.
Section 9.10(2)(g) states that the "burden of proof for any challenge [of a petition signature] rests with the individual bringing the challenge." Section 9.10(2)(h) requires that any "challenge to the validity of signatures on the petition shall be presented by affidavit or other supporting evidence."
The appeals court on Monday sent the case back to Judge Davis and ordered him to take testimony from the recall committees.
Judge Davis was a Republican state senator from 1983 to 1990.
"We conclude that the recall committees are entitled to intervene as a matter of right," the appellate court began in its ruling. Ten pages later, the panel added: "It cannot be seriously disputed that the recall committees have an interest in the procedures that will be used to review their recall petitions and strike names."
On page 15 of the 24-page ruling, the judges wrote: "Beyond the recall committees' interest in not losing valid signatures and not bearing an increased burden to prove that valid signatures are indeed valid, the committees also have an interest in preventing delays to the recall process that may be caused by changes to the [Government Accountability] Board's review process, if those changes are not required by law. ...
"Further, the recall committees have an interest in holding timely recall elections, as embodied in the recall statutes and our Constitution."
After reviewing other intervention cases, the appeals court ruled that "appropriate relief includes vacating the later order that is adverse to the intervening party."
To trigger a recall election against Walker, 540,208 valid signatures are needed. Recall organizers said they acquired signatures from more than 1 million state residents - nearly double the amount required.
If certified, it would be the third gubernatorial recall election in the nation's history. California Gov. Gray Davis was recalled in 2003 and North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier in 1921. The Government Accountability Board must verify and certify the petitions by March 19 unless a court grants another extension.
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