An attorney for Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told a Dane County judge that Vos had turned over between 10,000 and 20,000 deleted emails in response to an open records lawsuit filed by a liberal watchdog group.
But the judge in the case said Thursday that there was no point in continuing to try to search Vos' private email or phone for messages he may have deleted months ago.
The open records case is one of three filed in Dane County Circuit Court by the group American Oversight involving Vos and the investigation he authorized into the 2020 presidential election.
Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn is handling two of the cases. In one of them, she held Vos in contempt last week for "willfully (violating) a court order" to produce records related to the investigation. Bailey-Rihn's March 30 order gave Vos 14 days to comply with the records request or face fines of up to $1,000 per day.
But in the case heard Thursday, Bailey-Rihn said she would not order Vos to continue searching for messages on his private Gmail account or cell phone.
"I just don't see that at this point, any more time, expense or money is really relevant to the issues at hand to see if there's possibly some way to recover deleted messages on a private phone," Bailey-Rihn said. "Speaker Vos is the speaker of the house, but he also is a private citizen. And I don't see how you can separate his private messages from his public messages, if in fact you could even recover deleted messages, which I think is doubtful."
Wisconsin's open records law includes a provision that lets legislators delete electronic records, and Vos attorney Ronald Stadler said the messages had been deleted six to nine months ago.
Stadler said Vos had complied with a records request for deleted emails sent to his state government email address, which were still stored on a server.
"There is somewhere between (10,000) and 20,000 emails that have been produced," Stadler said. "It was produced yesterday because of the volume that there is. It's a lot."
American Oversight attorney Christa Westerberg said the documents did not include the original date stamps, and her client had not had a chance to review the records, which were turned over Wednesday night.
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"There's some documents from the 2000s and 2010s," Westerberg said. "So it will take us a little bit of time to go through those. So, at this point, we're not in a position to inform the court about the completeness of this response."
Vos hired former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to investigate the 2020 presidential election last year under pressure from some in the GOP base, particularly former President Donald Trump.
In the third open records lawsuit filed by American Oversight, Judge Frank Remington ordered the release of documents previously kept secret by Gableman.
Other cases are still pending involving the extent of Gableman's subpoena power as a special counsel for the Wisconsin Assembly.
In one of the cases, which was filed in Dane County by Attorney General Josh Kaul, the Wisconsin Elections Commission is challenging Gableman's authority to compel staff and commissioners to testify privately.
In the other subpoena case, which was brought by Gableman in Waukesha County, Gableman has threatened the mayors of Madison and Green Bay among several other state and local election workers with jail time unless they comply with his subpoenas.
Gableman released his "second interim report" on his investigation in early March, calling on lawmakers to consider decertifying the 2020 presidential election, a step election law experts — including his own lawyer — have said is impossible.
Gableman's first contract with Vos initially ran through Oct. 31, 2021, but Vos recently extended it through April 30, citing the ongoing lawsuits.
At least two of the lawsuits involving the investigation could extend well beyond that date. Bailey-Rihn scheduled another for July 21 in the case discussed Thursday, and Waukesha County Judge Ralph Ramirez scheduled a hearing for July 11 in the case where Gableman is threatening mayors with jail time.