The state Senate has passed legislation to protect corrections officers from frivolous inmate lawsuits – but will it work? A press release (PDF) from the bill's author, state Senator Pat Kreitlow (D-Chippewa Falls) says the bill "improves what is known as the 'John Doe' process, which allows a complaint to be filed anonymously. The bill formalizes how a complaint is reviewed by both a district attorney and a circuit court judge. It provides strict guidelines on how cases are reviewed in deciding whether formal criminal charges should be filed against a corrections officer."
But state Senate Minority Leader, Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), said the bill represents a compromise on the part of corrections officers. "I understand that the union has kind of cashed in their chips and said 'listen, we'll take whatever we can get,'" Fitzgerald said, adding that "there was a huge gap that existed last session between the Assembly and the Senate on this issue, and this is what they've come up with as a compromise."
It's a compromise, said Fitzgerald, that does nothing to change the relationship between inmates and the officers assigned to guard them. "We're going to be revisiting this issue next session, and we're going to be fixing this bill, 'cause it's not ready for prime time," said Fitzgerald. "We'll pay the legal bills, the taxpayers will pick up the tab, when ultimately what we could do right here today is eliminate the process, and not have to deal with any of this anymore."
The bill was authored by Kreitlow at the request of corrections officers working in the Chippewa Valley and, according to the release, has been endorsed by both advocates for inmates' rights and those for corrections officers.