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Ethics complaint filed against Michael Gableman, head of 2020 election review

Liberal firm accuses former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice of harassing public officials and repeatedly lying in court during taxpayer funded election review

Former conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court justice Michael Gableman
Former conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman. Screenshot from Wisconsin Office of Special Counsel YouTube

An ethics complaint has been filed against former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who headed the taxpayer-funded review of the 2020 election. It alleges Gableman harassed public and private individuals and waged a “shambolic, dishonest and destructive campaign,” during the investigation.

The complaint was filed with the state Office of Lawyer Regulation by the liberal group Law Forward. It accuses Gableman of regularly lying to government officials, the state Legislature, courts and the public while pursuing “frivolous litigation” as he led the Wisconsin Assembly’s “Office of Special Counsel.” Reached by phone, Gableman did not immediately have a comment.

Madison attorney Jeff Mandell, who filed the complaint with Law Forward attorney Dan Lenz, told Wisconsin Public Radio it’s not up to the group to suggest what penalties Gableman should face. But Mandell said the ethical violations alleged in the complaint are “voluminous” and “quite serious.”

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“So, I hope that pretty much all of the options that the ethical violations can trigger are on the table,” Mandell said.

Those options include fines, temporary law license suspensions or disbarment.

Gableman was hired by Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, to lead the review a day after former President Donald Trump accused Vos and other Republican legislative leaders of “working hard to cover up election corruption” in Wisconsin. Gableman was initially paid $11,000 per month.

“Mr. Gabelman accepted substantial sums of taxpayer money to engage in an investigation that was not a real investigation,” Mandell said. “He’d already made up his mind in the beginning. He came at this from a partisan purpose.”

Gableman issued a report urging state lawmakers to decertify the 2020 results, which the Legislature’s nonpartisan attorney said is not possible. Vos rejected the idea, and Gableman eventually endorsed the speaker’s Republican primary opponent. Gableman recorded a robocall claiming Vos “never wanted a real investigation into the 2020 election in Wisconsin.”

On the night of his primary win, Vos called Gableman “an embarrassment to the state.” He fired the former justice days later.

The filing by Law Forward isn’t the first time Gableman has been the focus of complaints about unethical behavior. Gableman ran a false attack ad against his opponent during his 2008 Supreme Court campaign that prompted an investigation by the Wisconsin Judicial Commission. While staff with the agency argued Gableman ran the ad “with reckless disregard for the truth,” Gableman’s colleagues on the high Court split 3-3 on whether to pursue the complaint, and it was dropped as a result.

Amid ongoing court battles for public records generated by Gableman’s 2020 election review, he was found in contempt of court in June 2022 for failing to comply with open records law. During that hearing Gableman accused Dane County Judge Frank Remington of “acting as an advocate” for liberal watchdog group American Oversight during the case. Days later, Judge Remington issued a scathing ruling stating Gableman “should not escape the consequences” for violating his oath as a lawyer to maintain respect due to courts and judicial officers.

Remington ordered the Dane County Clerk of Courts to forward his decision and transcripts of court proceedings to the Office of Lawyer Regulation for potential sanctions.

With the latest complaint, the regulatory body may assign a grievance investigator and refer the case to a committee, according to a summary of the process on the Office of Lawyer Regulation’s website. If the committee finds reason to proceed, the complaint can be referred to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which has the power to revoke or suspend law licenses.

As of Friday, no disciplinary complaints against Gableman were pending. His attorney status is listed as in good standing.