MADISON (AP) - A Madison judge improperly issued a restraining order against a former legislator's son, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.
Jeff Decker was exercising his right to protest the use of student fees when he disrupted campus meetings, the 4th District Court of Appeals found.
Decker, the son of former state Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Schofield, believes system officials have illegally blocked students' access to millions of dollars of their own fees.
He's been working for several years to embarrass University of Wisconsin System officials over the issue. Along with disrupting meetings, he's tromped around the UW-Stevens Point campus in a mechanical dragon costume to draw attention to his complaints.
Decker's attorney, Gary Grass, said he wasn't surprised the restraining order was overturned.
"It's a clear indication of his constitutional rights," Grass said. "Jeff was sort of thinking like, 'How can this happen in America? Is this the free country I thought it was?' I'm sure he'll be very reassured and pleased the court landed on the right side of this."
According to court documents the state Justice Department filed on the system's behalf, Decker became enraged during an August 2010 meeting with UW-Stevens Point Chancellor Bernie Patterson and stabbed Patterson's papers with a pen, barely missing Patterson's hand. Decker, then a student at the university, was subsequently suspended and barred from entering any UW campus without permission.
In January 2011, he ventured onto the UW-Oshkosh campus to distribute written materials in violation of his suspension. That same year, according to the system, he went to meetings at UW-Fox Valley and became disruptive. Police removed Decker by force. He also got into a Board of Regents meeting, where he blocked others' views of the meeting and refused to leave. Police dragged him out as he tried to hook his feet around chairs.
The system persuaded Dane County Circuit Judge John W. Markson to issue a restraining order against Decker in October 2011. Markson concluded Decker was trying to harass and intimidate system officials and ordered him to avoid any contact with the system and the Board of Regents for four years. He also barred Decker from owning any firearms after finding Decker might use a gun to hurt someone.
Decker argued his behavior wasn't harassment and nothing supported the firearm restriction.
The appellate court sided with him, reversing Markson's decision in a tightly worded six-page opinion. The court found Decker's actions had a legitimate purpose because they were related to his public protest of student fees, the court said. The three-judge panel didn't address any of Decker's other arguments.
Justice Department spokeswoman Dana Brueck said agency attorneys were reviewing the decision to see if they want to ask the state Supreme Court to take the case.
Decker said in a telephone interview he was "overjoyed" at the ruling and maintained he has always been very polite with system officials.
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