A Dane County judge has ordered the Assembly’s Office of Special Counsel to pay $24,000 in fines for the days it took former Justice Michael Gableman to prove he had done a thorough search and turned over records stemming from his review of the 2020 election.
While Judge Frank Remington yesterday found Gableman has now done enough to purge his contempt order, he also revoked the office’s out-of-state attorneys’ ability to participate in the case. He found they have engaged in a “a pernicious and selfish attempt to repaint the truth” in their attempts to force him off the case.
Remington was also unflinching in his criticism of the Office of Special Counsel, writing it had “accomplished nothing” between Aug. 30 and Dec. 4 of last year. That includes failing to keep weekly progress reports the Assembly required and recording no witness interviews or generating any “reports based on any special expertise.”
“Instead, it gave its employees code names like ‘coms’ or ‘3,’ apparently for the sole purpose of emailing back and forth about news articles and drafts of speeches,” Remington wrote. “It printed copies of reports that better investigators had already written, although there is no evidence any person connected with OSC ever read these reports, let alone critically analyzed their factual and legal bases to draw his or her own principled conclusions.”
Five of the office’s six attorneys are from out of state, including lead lawyer James Bopp, of Indiana.
Bopp called Remington’s decision “pointless” because the case before the Dane County judge is now over. The Office of Special Counsel’s legal team has already filed an appeal that Bopp said will seek to overturn Remington’s rulings on various fronts, including the $24,000 in fines and the attorneys’ fees awarded to American Oversight, which brought the suit.
Bopp also called the order vindication for the office. He said the search that was conducted after Remington found Gableman in contempt didn’t turn up any additional records compared to what had been submitted previously.
“That is a total vindication of the Office of Special Counsel because it demonstrates that as we argued before the Office of Special Counsel was found in contempt that we had produced all of the documents that we had that were responsive to the request,” Bopp said in a phone interview.
Yesterday’s order is the latest expense for taxpayers stemming from the Gableman probe. He had already racked up more than $1 million in expenses by mid-June between the costs of the investigation and lawyers fees to address several lawsuits that stemmed from the effort. Dane County judges have also awarded more than $260,000 in legal fees to American Oversight, the Washington, D.C.-based group that filed several lawsuits seeking records from the probe.
American Oversight Executive Director Heather Sawyer said yesterday’s ruling underscores Gableman’s probe had accomplished nothing but wasting “taxpayer resources promoting dangerously false claims of voter fraud.”
“Their disregard for Wisconsin’s public records law means that the people of Wisconsin will never know the full extent of their misconduct,” she said.
Remington issued three orders yesterday, including the ruling Gableman had met the conditions the judge had set out to resolve the contempt order. Remington added “ambiguities remain” on the effort Gableman put into the search and the $2,000 per day fines he levied “ultimately proved necessary to compel compliance with what should have been the basic obligation of a records custodian to the public.”
Along with that three-page order, Remington issued a short decision denying the Office of Special Counsel’s request to stay sanctions while the case was appealed. Remington wrote that request is now moot since he ruled that Gableman had purged the contempt order.
Remington then spent 90 pages refuting what he wrote were the “unsupported, illogical, and the outright false” arguments the office’s attorneys had made in trying to force him off the case for being biased.
Remington originally issued a five-page decision denying that motion, finding the office’s attorneys have presented no evidence to support his removal. He wrote the follow-up decision to more thoroughly rebut the office’s arguments and to withdraw the permission for out-of-state attorneys to participate in the case.
Remington wrote the office’s attorneys had accused him of threatening a witness, which is a felony, and “never even bothers to invent an explanation for why I am supposedly biased.”
The ruling is a point-by-point rebuttal of arguments that the office had made.
That includes, for example, the accusation that he instructed American Oversight’s attorneys how to proceed “with a wink and a nod expression,” but without providing any specifics to back up the claim.
He wrote their brief seeking his removal “is a manifestation of incompetency because it
applies phony legal principles to invented facts.”
Remington added, “Competency requires ‘legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation.’ This briefing shows none of those qualities.”
Read that ruling on the motion to recuse:
Read the ruling purging the contempt order:
Read the decision rejecting the motion for a stay: