A Dane County judge has ordered the Assembly to pay liberal group American Oversight $160,000 in attorney fees after holding former Justice Michael Gableman in contempt for failing to turn over records from his review of the 2020 election in a timely manner.

The order continues to increase taxpayers’ tab for Gableman’s probe. It comes less than a week after a different Dane County judge ruled the Assembly must pay the Washington, D.C-based group $98,000 in attorney fees stemming from another open records case seeking documents from his effort.

In that case, Gableman testified that he actively deleted records from the probe if he didn’t believe they were useful.

In the case that led to Monday’s order, Judge Frank Remington in June found Gableman in contempt for failing to comply with a request American Oversight filed last year under the state’s open records law. Remington ordered Gableman to pay $2,000 per day until he provided all the relevant records and on July 21 set an Aug. 16 date for a hearing to determine if he has done enough to clear the contempt charge.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, approved a $676,000 budget for Gableman’s review, which was supposed to wrap up last fall. But the tab had already hit $1 million earlier this summer between what Gableman has spent on the review and the legal bills stemming from various court cases related to the effort. That includes the multiple lawsuits American Oversight has filed seeking records from the probe.

Remington’s order today was slightly less than the $163,569 that American Oversight initially requested.

During the hearing, Gableman attorney James Bopp Jr. argued the $375 an hour being billed to taxpayers for American Oversight’s attorneys was unreasonable.

Remington asked, “Mr. Bopp, have you ever charged a client more than $375 an hour?”

“Definitely,” Bopp responded.

Remington also pressed Bopp on what he’s charging taxpayers to represent Gableman.

Bopp said he’s charging $450 an hour while others on the legal team have lower rates depending on their experience and expertise.

Remington also referred Gableman to the Office of Lawyer Regulation for “unprofessional behavior” during a June 15 order stemming from a hearing five days before.

A live microphone captured comments Gableman made during a recess in the hearing sarcastically impersonating the judge and suggesting that American Oversight attorney Christa Westerberg could “come back into my chamber” so she could dictate what she wanted.

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