When Leslyn Erickson says the Wisconsin State Patrol is being deployed in quite possibly illegal ways, there is ample reason to take her seriously.
Erickson is a former State Patrol trooper and sergeant who briefly served as assistant general counsel for the state Department of Transportation and counsel to the State Patrol, in 1991. She went on to teach constitutional and criminal law at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia, for nine years, then worked as a consultant on these topics to various federal agencies. Now she works with the U.S. Marine Corps.
Erickson says that when the State Patrol "engages in a labor dispute, that is a violation of their statutory authority." But you don't need the State Patrol's former lawyer or an expert in constitutional and criminal law to say that. It's right there in black and white:
Section 110.07(2m) of the Wisconsin State Statutes reads, in relevant part: "No state traffic officer shall be used in or take part in any dispute or controversy between employer or employee concerning wages, hours, labor or working conditions." It goes on to say state traffic officers may be used "to safeguard state officers or other persons."
Erickson allows that this argument could be used to explain why dozens of troopers have been deployed at the Capitol each day. But she says the threatened use of state troopers to round up missing Democratic senators - and their actual dispatch to Sen. Mark Miller's house - is much harder to justify: "Where was the need for protection?"
In such a case, says Erickson, these officers are acting outside of their statutory authority and lose any claim to immunity for their actions. She feels they could be sued and even charged with "criminal harassment."
The troopers themselves seem aware of this concern. As reported by Jack Craver last week, their union last week put out a statement (PDF) saying the orders being given by Gov. Walker and State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald - father of Republican legislative leaders Scott and Jeff - "may be illegal" and put troopers "in the way of great personal harm," including from lawsuits brought against them.
State Patrol Col. Ben Mendez says the troopers have nothing to fear, as they were deployed "for purposes of security in the state Capitol," which is "within the scope of their authority." He says the troopers who showed up at Sen. Miller's home were there "for the safety and security" of the public official - the Senate sergeant at arms - who was also present.
Sally Stix, the attorney for the troopers union, says a court would have to determine whether the troopers were properly deployed. "State Patrol leadership is not the final authority on that."