Gov. Scott Walker has fired the lawyers defending the state in a challenge to Wisconsin's domestic partnership law. But the governor's spokesman said his office "is still working to appoint a new counsel to the case."
Madison attorney Lester Pines informed Dane County Circuit Judge Daniel Moeser in a March 22 letter that his firm, Cullen Weston Pines & Bach, had been "terminated" by Walker as counsel for the state in the lawsuit filed in 2009 by Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, a conservative advocacy group.
Pines was hired by former Gov. Jim Doyle in August 2009 after state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen refused to defend the state in the lawsuit.
In a brief phone conversation, Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie confirmed that the governor had dismissed Pines as counsel on the case. He emailed to say that a new attorney would be hired but did not respond to a follow-up question seeking clarification on whether the state would continue to defend Wisconsin's domestic partnership law.
Doyle included the domestic partner registry in his 2009-11 budget. It went into effect in August 2009.
The law provides same-sex couples with limited rights and benefits -- including the right to visit each other in the hospital and inherit assets when a partner dies -- after joining a domestic partner registry. The lawsuit filed by Appling does not take aim at the extension of health care benefits to the domestic partners of same-sex couples who work for the state, another provision passed in Doyle's 2009 budget.
Appling's lawsuit charges that the registry was a violation of the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, which was approved by 59 percent of voters in a statewide referendum in 2006.
Fair Wisconsin, a statewide gay rights advocacy group, asked to intervene in the lawsuit, and several same-sex couples are now also defendants in the suit. The Chicago office of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a civil rights organization that focuses on gay issues, represents these couples and will continue to do, says attorney Christopher Clark.
Pines, who also represented Bill McConkey in his ultimately unsuccessful challenge to the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage, says he expected to be fired from the case. In fact, he is surprised it took this long.
"Gov. Walker is ideologically opposed to equal rights for gay and lesbian and transgendered people as is everyone in his administration as far as I can tell and they will be probably want to take steps to ensure that gay and lesbian and transgendered people do not have equal rights," Pines said.
"Everything that Gov. Walker is doing is ideological," Pines added. "I don't see that his administration has any particular respect for the law per se."
Lambda Legal attorney Clark says Walker's decision to fire Pines highlights why it was important to allow the same-sex couples to intervene in the lawsuit: "If they had not been permitted to intervene, then the status of the defense of this case would be very much in question."