Green Bay mayor seeks penalties for head of GOP-backed election investigation

Legal filing argues Michael Gableman made false statements in legal filing, public comments

a voter walks into a polling location. a sign says "vote here."
A voter walks into a polling location Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Hartland. Angela Major/WPR

The mayor of Green Bay has asked a court to impose penalties against the leader of a GOP-backed investigation into the 2020 election in Wisconsin.

Mayor Eric Genrich’s attorneys filed paperwork Tuesday asking a Waukesha County judge to punish former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman for a legal filing and public comments they claim were “underdeveloped, haphazard, unsupported by the facts, and contrary to Wisconsin law.” The filing and comments, made over the last few months, were related to Genrich’s pending testimony for the probe.

The taxpayer-funded election investigation, led by Gableman and spearheaded by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, was initially expected to wrap up late last year, but has instead recently expanded its scope.

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In early October, Gableman subpoenaed Genrich, along with four other Wisconsin mayors, to provide in-person testimony to investigators about election administration in their communities. Confusion about the scope of the subpoenas and private agreements about delaying testimony immediately followed, as well as a lawsuit from state Attorney General Josh Kaul over their enforceability. That lawsuit is pending.

In November, Gableman filed a lawsuit in Waukesha County against Genrich and the mayor of Madison, Satya Rhodes-Conway, seeking to have the court force them to testify or impose jail time. The Tuesday filing argues Gableman mischaracterized, in both the lawsuit and subsequent public comments before the Legislature, Genrich’s failure so far to provide in-person testimony.

According to the filing, Gableman’s team came to an agreement in early October with Genrich’s lawyers related to delayed in-person testimony. It says the agreement was made after Green Bay provided more than 20,000 pages of requested election documents to investigators.

“To ask this Court to initiate a process that could result in the confinement of the mayor of a Wisconsin city by the sheriff in a distant county without providing this Court with any of the material facts it would need to analyze such a request is an extraordinary attempt to mislead the Court and invites sanction,” the filing read.

The filing asks the court to require Gableman to take out full-page advertisements correcting his statements regarding Genrich in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Green Bay Press-Gazette and Wisconsin State Journal. It also calls for him to acknowledge the mischaracterizations before a legislative committee, pay a court-mandated fine, undergo three hours of ethics training and cease attempts to directly contact Green Bay officials and staff, rather than directing communication to their outside legal counsel.

Gableman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday about the call for sanctions against him.

Vos ordered to provide information about investigation documents

In a separate legal development Tuesday, a Dane County judge ordered Vos to provide private testimony later this month about his office’s process for fulfilling open records requests related to the election investigation.

The order stems from a lawsuit brought by American Oversight, a liberal group that has sought the release of a number of records related to the investigation, including contracts and communications between Gableman and Vos. American Oversight has filed three related lawsuits on the matter in Wisconsin.

Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn ordered Vos to sit for a deposition about his office’s fulfillment of the public records requests, which American Oversight contends have been inadequate, next Wednesday.

Vos has publicly resisted releasing documents related to the inquiry, citing concerns about compromising the integrity of the probe.

The Republican-backed election investigation 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. 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.

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