A Dane County judge on Friday declined to issue a temporary injunction halting changes under the state budget to the office of Secretary of State Doug La Follette, finding that La Follette hasn’t shown that his lawsuit against the budget provisions is likely to succeed.
La Follette sued Gov. Scott Walker and the secretaries of the state departments of Administration and Financial Institutions in July, after passage of the 2015-17 budget, arguing that the budget cuts are an unconstitutional infringement on his office and are so severe that he wouldn’t be able to do his job without causing delays in services.
In particular, La Follette singled out the issuance of apostilles, internationally-recognized certificates of authenticity needed by some state businesses to do work abroad, as a duty of the secretary of state under the state constitution that would be greatly hindered by the reduction in staff required by the budget.
The office issues about 15,000 of the certificates annually.
He also argued that the application of the great seal of Wisconsin to apostilles makes the issuance of apostilles a constitutional duty, because the secretary of state is tasked under the state constitution with applying the great seal to acts of the governor.
But Circuit Judge Rhonda Lanford said in a 17-page ruling that La Follette did not show that processing of apostilles is a constitutional duty of the secretary of state, nor did he show that application of the great seal to apostilles is even necessary.
“The language of the constitution is not this broad,” Lanford wrote. “The great seal is required only on ‘all official acts of the governor.’ However, there is no evidence in the record that an apostille is an ‘act of the governor,’ as the secretary of state has admitted that the processing of apostilles is his responsibility, and not the governor’s, under the Hague Convention.”
Therefore, Lanford said, the processing of apostilles could not be shown to be a constitutional duty of the secretary of state.
But she held out a glimmer of hope to La Follette.
Just because processing of apostilles is not a constitutional duty does not necessarily mean that the budget did not infringe upon the constitutional record-keeping duties of the secretary of state, she wrote.
“The court is not definitively stating that there is no infringement on the constitutional record keeping duties in this case, just that the evidence before the court at this time does not support such a finding,” Lanford wrote.
La Follette said he would have to talk with his lawyer about what their next step might be. But he said he still believes it’s clear that issuing apostilles is one of his inherent duties as secretary of state, and said his office would fall further behind in issuing the documents and other duties.
“To me it’s just irresponsible for the governor and the legislature to put the secretary of state’s office in a position where we can’t fulfill our duties.”
After the budget was approved, La Follette’s staff was reduced from three people to one full- and one part-time person, and his office was moved from a 4,000-square-foot space rented in an office building on the Square to just over 600 square feet in the basement of the Capitol.