Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who is leading Assembly Republicans’ partisan review of the 2020 presidential election, took an extreme step last week when he asked a Waukesha County judge to order the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office to arrest the mayors of Green Bay and Madison.
Gableman’s threat to arrest leaders of the opposing party continued his antagonism of Democrats after an appearance in front of the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections earlier in the week resulted in a shouting match with Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit).
Gableman’s call for the arrest of Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich and Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway stems from his long and convoluted attempts to compel, through subpoenas, elections-related documents from the cities and testimony from the officials.
Earlier this year, Gableman emailed a request to retain documents to a number of cities across the state from a Gmail account under the name “John Delta.” A number of those cities had the email go into their spam folders. Once the cities received the subpoenas, many of them pointed out that the requested documents had already been provided to the committee that Gableman nominally works for. After working with city staff to narrow and define the request for documents in October, Gableman told WISN that testimony from city leaders might not be necessary.
A continued point of dispute over the testimony of local officials has been Gableman’s desire to interview the mayors in private, rather than in public in front of the Assembly elections committee. A lawsuit over this issue and the testimony of members and staff of the Wisconsin Elections Commission is currently being decided in Dane County Circuit Court.
Attorneys for the cities of Green Bay and Madison have said they reached out to Gableman’s office about the details for potential testimony but never received a response and hadn’t heard anything about the matter until his petition for the mayors to be arrested.
Jeff Mandell, an attorney for Genrich, requested that Gableman’s petition for the mayors’ arrest be dismissed. Mandell says if Gableman’s work weren’t so serious, his actions would be the stuff of comedy.
“If the stakes weren’t so high and what he was seeking wasn’t so serious it would be kind of funny … the intersection between the comic buffoonery of this and the serious consequences and the high stakes that make it not funny,” Mandell says. “I will say this is a pattern we’ve seen where the special counsel does not provide information to, or address the cities from whom he claims to want information, but instead speaks directly to the public or the Legislature and in doing so uses a bunch of fancy legal words to make it sound like what he’s doing is important and legitimate but those words, they are legal words, but they don’t line up with what he’s trying to do. Given he was on the Wisconsin Supreme Court it’s kind of weird.”
In a letter to Waukesha County Judge Ralph Ramirez, Mandell asked for the petition for arrests to be dismissed on a number of grounds. First, Mandell says Gableman is not part of one of the bodies of state government that is empowered to request such an order. Second, he says Waukesha County isn’t the proper place to file this request. Third, he says it’s not clear that a Waukesha County judge has the ability to send sheriff’s deputies across the state to arrest a mayor in a different county. Finally, for such an order to be granted the mayors would have had to be acting unreasonably, which he says is plainly not the case.
“Even he acknowledges he doesn’t have the power to arrest anyone,” Mandell says. “It would be like going to a doctor to get a prescription to give to someone else to get the drugs. More specifically what had happened in Green Bay and with the other cities, there was a provision of documents that was understood to set aside the subpoena requests and with those documents came a statement that if the office of special counsel wanted additional information, they should be in touch and we’d consider the requests. While Mr. Gableman never responded to our response, he did tell a number of media outlets there were no further requirements, ‘How dare you not obey my unilateral changes to these subpoenas I said no longer had any effect.’”
A hearing in the case has been scheduled for Dec. 22 but Mandell says Ramirez could take a number of actions, including dismissing the petition, transferring the case to Dane County to be combined with the already existing lawsuit or waiting for the Dane County case to be resolved.
As Gableman is trying to send sheriff’s deputies after Democratic mayors, his review and the legislators who’ve ordered it are facing their own troubles on the issue of transparency.
Until this week, many of the people who were working and how much they were making, as well as other documents related to the investigation, remained secret. Media outlets and the government watchdog group American Oversight sued for the release of these records in October.
Last month, a Dane County judge ordered that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), who has authorized the review, release the records with a Nov. 19 deadline. On Friday, American Oversight asked for the judge to hold Vos in contempt for failing to provide the records.
American Oversight requested that Vos be fined $2,000 for each day he fails to provide the requested records.
“At the same time that his hand-selected Special Counsel is trying to have local officials detained for failing to comply with his contradictory and ridiculous subpoenas, Speaker Vos is flagrantly defying an actual court order to release records to the public,” Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, said. “This shell game demands accountability and needs to end.”
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