, ,

Gableman’s office held in contempt in open records case about 2020 election probe

Gableman takes stand to exercise right to remain silent, lambast judge as 'personal advocate' for one party

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

A Dane County circuit court judge on Friday held the Office of Special Counsel, which has been conducting a probe into Wisconsin’s 2020 election and is led by former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, in contempt of court in its open records dispute with the liberal watchdog group American Oversight.

American Oversight sued in an attempt to get access to records related to the investigation. Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington previously ordered the special counsel’s office to hand over the documents the organization was seeking. The judge also ordered Gableman’s office to stop deleting emails, texts and other records related to the investigation.

Remington did not immediately issue sanctions, saying he will follow up his finding of contempt with a written order.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Gableman also took the stand. He declined to answer questions, exercising his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and accused Remington of bias.

“This judge has abandoned his role as a neutral magistrate and is acting as an advocate,” he said. “All of a sudden, I somehow think that my personal rights are at stake here.”

Remington admonished Gableman for speaking when he had not been asked a question.

“You had a courtroom in Burnett County, you had a courtroom in the East Wing of the state Capitol. I do not need to tell you how I expect you to control yourself and your behavior that I expect of a witness on this stand,” he said. “No question has been asked of you; you are not given the opportunity to make a speech.”

Gableman said he was frustrated by how the case was being handled, and accused the judge of giving American Oversight’s attorney, Christa Westerberg, too much leeway.

“You want to put me in jail, Judge Remington, I’m not going to be railroaded,” said Gableman. “Up until (5 minutes ago) I thought the only issue at play in this whole thing was 97 documents we were late getting over to Ms. Westerberg … Now I find out your intent is to let her do a fishing expedition.”

At a hearing Wednesday, Gableman’s attorney failed to quash the subpoena calling the former supreme court justice to testify. His attorneys tried again Friday morning to have the case dismissed and to avoid Gableman testifying. Remington denied the motion to rescind on several grounds. The judge said there was nothing prejudicial about calling Gableman to testify in the case where his attorney admitted some records were destroyed.

Earlier discussion at the hearing centered around special counsel staff member Zakory Niemierowicz. Remington said at the Wednesday hearing that it sounded like Gableman’s attorney was suggesting that Niemierowicz was to blame for not following Remington’s previous orders in the open records case. Niemierowicz has since retained his own attorney.

The Republican-backed election investigation led by Gableman’s office comes after Wisconsin has completed a series of routine state election audits and a presidential recount in the state’s two largest counties, as well as an audit from the Legislature’s nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau.

None of those reviews have uncovered widespread fraud or wrongdoing in the administration of the 2020 election in Wisconsin.

There have also been numerous Republican-backed lawsuits in the state, all of which have failed to result in findings of wrongdoing by election officials or voters.

President Joe Biden won Wisconsin by about 21,000 votes — a margin similar to several other razor-thin statewide elections in recent years.