MADISON – Former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman and his Assembly office were held in contempt Friday after he refused to answer any questions about his handling of public records requests and lambasted a judge overseeing a lawsuit alleging Gableman is refusing to follow transparency laws governing his taxpayer- review funded of the 2020 election.
Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington ordered Gableman to testify Friday to help determine whether Gableman and the Assembly’s Office of Special Counsel created to examine the 2020 election were violating Remington’s orders to preserve public records and release them to requesters.
But Gableman said he was being “railroaded,” called Remington a partisan advocate and refused to answer anything beyond his name and occupation.
The dramatic episode took place two days after Remington suggested one of Gableman’s staffers who had been put in charge of requests for records might need to think about getting his own attorney because of the possibility of jail time for disobeying court orders.
Gableman’s attorney, Michael Dean, said Remington’s suggestion terrified the staff member, Zakory Niemierowicz, and prompted Dean to advise Niemierowicz and Gableman to obtain their own counsel if jail time is possible.
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“You don’t have a right to act as an advocate for one party over the other. I want personal counsel. If you are putting jail on the table, I want a personal attorney to represent me. I will not answer any more questions ,” Gableman said on the stand. “You want to put me in jail, Judge Remington…I’m not going to be railroaded.”
Remington said attorneys should have researched the potential remedies for violating such a court order, which includes jail time.
“At no time did I say it was a sanction I intended to impose,” he said Friday.
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Gableman’s testimony was ordered by Remington in one of three lawsuits filed by the liberal group American Oversight seeking public records related to Gableman’s review of the 2020 election from Gableman and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.
Under pressure from former President Donald Trump to further litigate President Joe Biden’s victory in Wisconsin, Vos hired Gableman in June of 2021 to conduct a review of the 2020 election with a taxpayer-funded salary of $11,000 per month.
Biden defeated Trump in Wisconsin by about 21,000 votes — an election outcome confirmed by judges, recounts and state audits. But Trump has worked to sow doubt in his 2020 loss, pushing false claims of widespread voter fraud and urging Republican lawmakers in battleground states to embrace his distortions.
More:Michael Gableman asked for tips to help him find vote fraud. The public responded by trolling him.
Remington on Friday ultimately held Gableman in contempt for failing to provide evidence through his testimony that showed Gableman did not intentionally violate Remington’s court order. Remington said he would determine sanctions in a written order that will be issued at a later date.
Gableman has released hundreds of records under pressure from the legal challenges, but American Oversight attorneys contend more records could exist that have not been provided.
Earlier this year, a separate attorney representing Gableman in the case before Remington said Gableman was routinely deleting emails, text messages and other documents gathered and produced by the $676,000 taxpayer-funded review.
Gableman and his staff in the Office of Special Counsel are destroying records deemed “irrelevant or useless,” the attorney said in a memo to American Oversight, the lawsuit’s plaintiff.
The practice is a violation of state law, according to the Legislature’s own attorneys.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Gableman acknowledged he deleted emails and text messages related to the review that he didn’t consider relevant and dismissed the notion that he should have erred on the side of transparency in a taxpayer-funded review.
“If I had to keep every scrap of paper, I would do nothing else. I would need a warehouse,” he said.
Contact Molly Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @MollyBeck.