DETROIT — A judge has dismissed a lawsuit by unions after finding there was nothing illegal when state police temporarily closed the Capitol while the Legislature in 2012 debated Michigan's controversial right-to-work law.
Court of Claims Judge Deborah Servitto said the rights of the public were not diminished when the Capitol was closed due to overcrowding. She noted that some members of the public and news reporters were in the House and Senate, and neither chamber approved the bills at that time.
"Not all members of the public who wanted to have direct, in-person observation of the legislative proceedings were able to," the judge acknowledged Friday. "But just as a road is open to public travel even though its capacity is finite, a meeting may be open to the public even where physical access to all members of the public is not available."
Republican lawmakers eventually passed a bill that doesn't require workers to pay union dues or fees. Gov. Rick Snyder, also a Republican, signed the law over the protests of thousands of people who gathered on the Capitol grounds in December 2012.
Unions and other critics filed a lawsuit, claiming the state's open meetings law was violated when the Capitol was closed. They wanted the judge to overturn the right-to-work law.
Opponents accused Republican staff members of conspiring to fill seats in the House gallery to keep the public out. There's evidence that Ralph Fieberg Jr. sent an email to other staffers encouraging them to join him at 6:55 a.m. before the public was allowed in.
"However, he did not recall anyone taking him up on the offer. He sat alone. ... The presence of staff in the gallery was inconsequential and did not interfere with the public's knowledge of the events that occurred," Servitto said.
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