For many months, former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman's taxpayer-funded review of the 2020 presidential election that has not produced any evidence of substantive voter fraud "accomplished nothing," according to a Dane County judge.
Gableman didn't keep weekly progress reports as required by the Wisconsin State Assembly.
He conducted no witness interviews.
And he gathered "no measurable data" over at least a four-month span in 2021, the judge found.
"Instead, it gave its employees code names like 'coms' or '3,' apparently for the sole purpose of emailing back and forth about news articles and drafts of speeches," Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington wrote in an opinion released Wednesday.
"It printed copies of reports that better investigators had already written," Remington added, "although there is no evidence any person connected with (the Office of the Special Counsel) ever read these reports, let alone critically analyzed their factual and legal bases to draw his or her own principled conclusions."
The office did, however, "commence lawsuits against other parts of our state and local government, although at time of this writing, OSC has received no relief," the judge said.
Remington's comments were part of a Wednesday ruling denying a motion by the Assembly's office to recuse himself from presiding over a public records dispute between the liberal group American Oversight and the Office of Special Counsel.
In the ruling, Remington admonished the Office of Special Counsel's five out-of-state attorneys, including prominent conservative attorney James Bopp, for their "baseless" claims against him and revoked their ability to represent the Assembly's office in the case.
"Its lawyers' arguments are wholly without merit and, together, their disobedience for the rule of law is contemptuous," Remington wrote of the attorneys.
"If this case were not on appeal," he added, "I could sanction OSC and each of its seven lawyers for their specious legal arguments."
Remington described the Assembly office's motion for Remington to recuse himself from the case as a "fever dream version of the facts of this case" in which the office "never even bothers to invent an explanation for why I am supposedly biased."
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He broke down the arguments from Bopp and his co-counsel point-by-point, refuting claims such as that he threatened a witness when he suggested one of Gableman's staffers who had been put in charge of handling requests for records might need to think about getting his own attorney because of the possibility of jail time for disobeying court orders.
"I revoke OSC's out-of-state attorneys' pro hac vice admission because the motion to which they have signed their names applies phony legal principles to invented facts," wrote Remington, referring to the attorneys' ability to practice law outside their admitted jurisdictions. "Near every claim they make is frivolous under Wisconsin law."
Contempt of court order lifted
In addition to the scathing review of Gableman's work and the attorneys' conduct, Remington on Wednesday lifted a contempt order on Gableman for failing to sufficiently search for and produce the records requested by American Oversight related to his election review.
He ordered Gableman to pay the court $24,000 for 12 days in which Gableman was found in contempt of the order, imposed June 15. He called the affidavit submitted by Gableman on June 28 that cleared him of contempt "far from ideal" but said a subsequent affidavit filed in August "sufficiently remedied some of those deficiencies."
"It is true, as American Oversight points out, that ambiguities remain," Remington wrote Wednesday. "I am nevertheless satisfied to the 'reasonable degree of certainty' required by my order that OSC has, finally, complied with the Court's order to produce records."
In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Bopp called Remington's order "superfluous and meaningless" and claimed the order purging contempt concluded the case and therefore nullified the pro hac vice decision.
He said the lifting of the contempt ruling was a "complete vindication" that Gableman had produced all the records requested of him.
"There's no further action in the case in that court," Bopp said, noting they are appealing the contempt decision in the Court of Appeals.
"In 49 years, I've never been accused by any judge or lawyer to have filed a meritless pleading, which is what he's claiming," Bopp said of Remington. "We filed this in good faith based upon his repeated conduct at the hearing."
"His conclusion that this is without merit is erroneous," Bopp added. "And we will be arguing that in the Court of Appeals."
Decisions come after Gableman's firing
The decisions from Remington follow a tumultuous couple weeks in Wisconsin's review of the 2020 presidential election that has cost state taxpayers more than $1 million.
Last Friday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos fired Gableman - a week after former President Donald Trump announced Gableman endorsed Vos' primary opponent, Adam Steen, during a rally in Waukesha.
Days after the endorsement, Vos narrowly won the primary by just 260 votes.
Vos' decision to fire Gableman came more than a year after he hired the former Supreme Court justice to probe the election, which itself came after urging from Trump to launch such an effort.
On Tuesday, Vos suggested Gableman could lose his law license over his conduct during the investigation but said that decision is ultimately up to the court. He told reporters he doesn't regret hiring Gableman because the original goal of the investigation had merit, but he said the review started to get embarrassing in 2022.
Despite Gableman's termination, the Office of Special Counsel still exists - without employees or a budget.
"We still have all these lawsuits that have been filed against the office," Vos said. "There are still outstanding issues where I think the judges decided wrongly."
"I don't think because we provided all the records that they should have awarded all of these hundreds of thousands of dollars of bogus fees for these liberal special interest groups."
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Judge admonishes Michael Gableman's 2020 review of Wisconsin election