MADISON – A judge expressed bafflement Thursday that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos had turned over so few documents about a Republican review of the 2020 election.
The liberal group American Oversight is asking Dane County Circuit Court Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn to hold Vos in contempt of court for not producing all documents in response to requests it has filed under the state’s open records law.
Bailey-Rihn said Thursday she would not hold anyone in contempt of court for now because she doesn’t know how thoroughly Vos and his aides searched for documents they are required to make public.
She said she didn’t understand how Vos could have found so few documents for a review of the election that has lasted months, has a taxpayer-funded budget of $676,000 and has included travel to Arizona. The election review is being conducted by former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman.
“Does he not have any itinerary and did he not have any work product for what he did out in Arizona while he was there?” she asked.
“It seems strange to me that this could be going on for three months (as of August) with I think one if not more attorneys working on this and they did nothing. They provided nothing? They don’t even have a copy of the receipt showing that they paid for their plane tickets?”
Bailey-Rihn scheduled a hearing for Jan. 24 where she can hear from Vos or his aides about what he did to try to identify records related to the election review.
If she finds Vos fell short of his duties, she could find the Rochester Republican in contempt of court. American Oversight is asking her to force him to pay $2,000 per day until he turns over all the records at play in the case.
The lawsuit is one of three American Oversight has brought to try to turn up records about the election inquiry.
Bailey-Rihn in November first ordered Vos to release records. American Oversight received little from Vos and brought its request for contempt proceedings.
Vos attorney Ronald Stadler said Vos’ team searched the records of Vos and Gableman and turned over everything it found that was responsive to American Oversight’s requests.
American Oversight attorney Christa Westerberg questioned that claim, noting Gableman in response to a separate records request had turned over an email that Vos also should have produced. Stadler said he didn’t know why that email had not been found by Vos’ team.
Gableman is looking into an election that has already been scrutinized through recounts, court proceedings and independent reviews. Courts have upheld Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump by about 21,000 votes in Wisconsin.
Some records about the Republican election review have already been released, including ones showing Gableman has met with and hired election conspiracy theorists as part of his review.
Those records also revealed taxpayers bankrolled Gableman’s travel to South Dakota and Arizona. Vos this summer said taxpayers would not have to pay those costs. In a recent interview, he said he would probably try to recover the funds.
American Oversight’s records lawsuits are a sidelight to a broader legal fight over Gableman’s work.
Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul in October sued Gableman to try to block subpoenas he issued to the bipartisan state Elections Commission. A decision in that case is expected in January.
In November, Gableman filed his own lawsuit seeking to jail the mayors of Madison and Green Bay because he contends they have not cooperated with him. The mayors dispute that. A Waukesha County judge will consider the dispute in January.
Gableman and the attorney for Green Bay, Jeffrey Mandell, have threatened to seek professional sanctions against one another in that case.
Several hearings in the array of cases are slated for January, including one on Tuesday that could determine whether Vos and his attorney, Steve Fawcett, have to sit for depositions with American Oversight’s legal team.
Nass seeks new election rules
Also Thursday, GOP Sen. Steve Nass of Whitewater announced he was seeking to require the Elections Commission to quickly adopt rules regarding absentee ballot drop boxes.
Ballot drop boxes were widely used in Wisconsin last year over the opposition of some Republicans.
State law doesn’t say anything about ballot drop boxes. Election officials have said local governments are free to use them, while some Republicans have argued they’re not allowed.
Two lawsuits over the legality of drop boxes are pending.
The commission in December began the protracted process of writing formal rules on ballot drop boxes, but Nass wants it to adopt emergency rules within 30 days.
If the commission were to do that, Republicans who control the Legislature could block them, leaving no statewide policy on drop boxes.
Nass is also seeking emergency rules regarding when clerks can fill in missing addresses for witnesses on absentee ballot paperwork. The commission since 2016 has allowed clerks to fill in that information if they have it.
Nass said he has the support of Senate Republicans for his efforts and is urging Assembly Republicans to side with him.
More: The identity of Michael Gableman’s ‘Carol M.’ is a mystery no longer, but the names of others helping him remain secret
More: Gableman is paying $20,500 a month to a staff of five for the GOP election review but won’t tell taxpayers who they are
More: Former Supreme Court Justice Gableman, head of Republican review of Wisconsin election, says he does not understand how elections work
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Judge questions why Vos has turned over few records of election review