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2020 election review office ordered to pay more than $163K in legal fees for public records court battle

Order follows similar ruling against Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who was ordered to pay estimated $98K in fees

Michael Gableman stands at a podium and points around the room as he speaks. Attendees are seated behind him.
Former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman speaks Tuesday, March 1, 2022, at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Another $163,000 in taxpayer funds will go to a liberal watchdog group suing for records tied to a 2020 election review authorized by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.

At the conclusion of an hours-long hearing Monday, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Frank Remington ordered the Office of Special Counsel, headed by former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, to pay more than $163,000 to American Oversight.

“The entity is entitled to be made whole for the market cost of the in-house counsel,” said Remington. “Whether they were litigating that what you call the merits phase or the contempt phase.”

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Attorney Ron Stadler, who is representing the Office of Special Counsel, Gableman and Vos — in various records lawsuits — argued that fees requested for attorneys associated with American Oversight who did not directly address the court in prior hearings were unreasonable. Judge Remington disagreed.

An email from Wisconsin Public Radio to Stadler asking whether his clients would appeal the ruling was not returned.

Last week, another Dane County Circuit Court Judge awarded an estimated $98,000 in legal fees to American Oversight in a separate records lawsuit brought against Speaker Vos.

Monday’s fees ruling came months after Remington found that Gableman and Vos violated state public records laws by denying or delaying access to documents requested by American Oversight.

On June 10, Remington found Gableman in contempt of court for failing to provide requested documents. During that hearing, the former justice accused Remington of being biased and wanting to put him in jail. Vos was also found in contempt of court in a separate ruling.

The hearings, several public records lawsuits and appeals come more than a year after Vos appointed Gableman to head the Office of Special Counsel charged with reviewing the 2020 election with an initial budget of $676,000.

Vos’ decision was spurred by pressure from former President Donald Trump who has repeated false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him in swing states like Wisconsin.

Gableman issued a report in March that suggested state lawmakers “ought to take a very hard look” at decertifying the election. Vos rejected that recommendation, saying the state Constitution does not allow him to decertify President Joe Biden’s 2020 win. Legal experts have said decertification is not possible.

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