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Judge to hear arguments about ‘secret panel’ exploring Protasiewicz impeachment

Former Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, one of the jurists consulted by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, will not be forced to testify

Patience Roggensack is seen at oral arguments in a case heard by the state Supreme Court
The retirement of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Patience Roggensack has given Democrats hope of flipping the state high court to liberal control in April and toss out the state’s legislative maps. Roggensack is seen at oral arguments in a case heard by the state Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2022. Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Watch

A judge will hear arguments Thursday in a court case about Assembly Speaker Robin Vos consulting former Wisconsin Supreme Court justices as he explores pursuing impeachment against Justice Janet Protasiewicz.

But Former Chief Justice Patience Roggensack — one of three conservative jurists that Vos, R-Rochester, consulted — will not be forced to attend, after a Dane County circuit court judge squashed a subpoena on Wednesday afternoon.

The case, filed by the Washington D.C.-based government accountability group American Oversight contends that Vos violated open meeting laws by assembling a “secret panel” to discuss the prospect of impeaching Protasiewicz.

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Judge Frank Remington will hear arguments Thursday about whether to proceed with that lawsuit.

Vos has said that he did not organize the kind of official government proceedings that would be obligated to follow open meetings laws. Rather, he said, he consulted the former justices in an informal, advisory capacity.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Robert Shumaker, a lawyer for Roggensack, argued she should not have to testify at Thursday’s hearing because she is not a party in the complaint.

“We believe it would be a deprivation of Mrs. Roggensack’s liberty interest, including the right to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, (to) petition government, for this court to proceed with a hearing that would enjoin Mrs. Roggensack,” said Shumaker.

Remington ultimately sided with Roggensack and quashed her subpoena.

Debate over Protasiewicz recusal

Vos has called on Protasiewicz to recuse herself from hearing cases involving Wisconsin’s legislative maps because of statements she made while campaigning for the bench in which she described them as “rigged.” He has said that impeachment could be an option if she did not.

Protasiewicz declined to recuse earlier this month. The court is expected to hear a lawsuit seeking to overturn the state’s maps later this year.

Two of the justices consulted, David Prosser and Jon Wilcox, cautioned against impeaching Protasiewicz. In a letter to Vos obtained by American Oversight, Prosser said that impeachment should be reserved for crimes or corruption in office, and that the appearance of political motivations could backfire.

It is not known how Roggensack advised Vos. In a motion filed Monday, she said that she did not consider herself to be participating in an official government body. The justices have all said that they advised Vos separately and not as a panel.

Vos earlier announced the formation of a “panel,” and American Oversight’s complaint names a “secret panel” as the defendant.

In a previous interview with Wisconsin Public Radio, American Oversight’s executive director Heather Sawyer said that the public has the right to understand the debate over impeachment.

“There’s nothing wrong at all with legislators using advisory panels. The problem here is that they tried to proceed in doing so in secret,” she said. “In a democracy, government bodies don’t get to operate outside of the public view.”

Vos said last week that impeachment is still on the table, but that lawmakers will be watching for how she Protasiewicz conducts herself in office and for evidence of bias in how she rules in the maps case.