MADISON (WKOW) -- The Wisconsin State Bar Association announced Dane County circuit court judge Maryann Sumi will receive the group's Judge of the Year Award.
Last March, Sumi disallowed Act 10, which severely restricted collective bargaining rights for most members of public employee unions. At the time of Sumi's ruling, the law had been passed by the legislature, signed by Governor Walker, but Secretary of State Douglas La Follette refused to publish it.
Sumi's ruling triggered legal challenges culminating with the state supreme court overturning her ruling on a 4-3 vote and allowing the law to take effect.
Fellow Dane County judge Juan Colas said the county's full circuit of judges unanimously nominated Sumi for the award. Colas said Sumi's handling of the collective bargaining case was consistent with her career-long approach. "She treated the litigants with respect and dignity; she impartially applied the law."
Sumi's ruling was roundly criticized by many republicans, with some lawmakers branding her decision liberal activism.
Attorney Rick Esenberg of the conservative advocacy group Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty said he does not question Sumi's motives. But Esenberg believes State Bar representatives were misguided in selecting a judge involved with an issue of unparalleled legal and political division. "It's going to look like the State Bar is taking sides."
In a statement, State Bar representatives said the sum of a judge's career and recommendations from colleagues are equally important to the selection, and downplayed any perceptions created by tabbing a judge from a high profile case. "Whether we agree or disagree with any particular decision is not the basis of a decision on whether they do or do not deserve recognition from their peers."
Sumi has served as a circuit judge since 1998 after being appointed to the bench by Gov. Tommy Thompson. Thompson's daughter, state public defender Kelli Sue Thompson is on the bar committee that picked Sumi for the honor.
Sumi's award will be presented in June at the state bar's annual meeting.
Wisconsin State Bar Association on Judge of the Year award: http://www.wisbar.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=News&Template=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=108888
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