The Wisconsin Supreme Court has temporarily blocked a lower court order preventing Republican lawmakers from hiring private attorneys before the next round of reallocation.
The judges also approved an expedited appeal against the decision of Dane County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Ehlke in April when he ruled that lawmakers cannot hire outside lawyers until a case is pending.
Thursday’s ruling does not include any actual reallocation plans or lines on a map. But it does mean – for now, at least – that Republicans can hire private lawyers at the taxpayers’ expense to prepare for the controversial trial that takes place every decade.
The controversial treaties in this case were signed by Republican leaders in late December and early January.
One signed with Consovoy McCarthy PLLC called for paying the company $ 30,000 per month for “pre-litigation advice” starting January, and up to $ 965,000 in 2021.
The other, signed with Bell Giftos St. John LLC, called for an hourly rate of $ 375 an hour. The firm includes Kevin St. John, who was the assistant attorney general under former Republican attorney general JB Van Hollen.
A group of plaintiffs, represented by Madison attorney Lester Pines, sued, arguing that lawmakers cannot hire the attorneys until redistribution proceedings are pending.
Ehlke agreed, and when the Republicans asked him to “stay” or temporarily suspend his sentence, he declined. After the Republicans appealed to the District III Court of Appeals in Wisconsin, Appeals Court Judge Lisa Stark also declined a stay. Later, a three-person jury, including Stark, made an almost identical decision.
That prompted Republicans to ask the state Supreme Court to intervene, and while the court has not yet ruled on the underlying merits of the case, Conservative judges gave GOP leaders the verdict they had hoped for.
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The court issued two orders on Thursday. In one passed unanimously by the judges, the court agreed to hear the case. In the other, which was handed down by the conservative four-judiciary block of the court, the court withheld Judge Ehlke’s verdict and warned him of “legal errors”.
The majority in the court wrote that Ehlke failed to take into account the fact that Republicans have “more than just the opportunity” to succeed on appeal. Conservatives also wrote that Ehlke had failed to account for the potential harm to lawmakers by refusing to hire their election lawyers.
“If the district court’s injunction remains in effect while this appeal is pending, the legislature will not be allowed to seek the assistance of attorneys who are during the short window of time in which the legislature has the first option ( according to the state constitution) to draw the necessary new districts, “wrote the conservatives of the court.
That potential harm, Conservative judges wrote, outweighs the potential harm to taxpayers if they are forced to pay for legal contracts that are eventually annulled.
The three liberals of the court contradicted Judge Rebecca Dallet and wrote that it would be “nonsensical” if Ehlke had granted the suspension when he had just ruled against the legislature. Dallet also poked fun at the idea that Republican lawmakers were somehow harmed by a ruling that prevented them from hiring private lawyers.
“Legislature provides no argument or evidence as to why the lawyers for the Department of Justice, Legislative Council, Legislative Reference Bureau and Legislative Technology Services Bureau are unable to provide legal advice on redistribution rules and regulations,” wrote Dallet . “The majority are only offering their own unsubstantiated speculation that the Wisconsin Redistribution Act is too ‘specialized and complex’ for Wisconsin prosecutors to deal with.”
While the Wisconsin Department of Justice is headed by Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, the Wisconsin Legislative Council, Legislative Reference Bureau, and Legislative Technology Services Bureau are all bipartisan agencies.
The majority of the court set a schedule for filing pleadings in the case, which can take up to two months. By then, detailed U.S. census data is expected to be released and the reallocation process may have started in earnest.
Conservative judges said they would schedule an oral argument “in due course” in the case.
Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2021, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.