The Wisconsin Supreme Court has temporarily blocked an order from a lower court that barred Republican lawmakers from hiring private attorneys before the next round of redistribution.
The judges also agreed to hear a fast-track appeal of the decision of Dane County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Ehlke in April when he ruled that the legislature could not hire outside lawyers as long as a trial was not in progress.
Thursday’s decision does not involve any actual redistribution plan, nor any line on a map. But that means – at least for now – Republicans can hire private lawyers at taxpayer expense to prepare for the litigation process that occurs once every ten years.
The disputed contracts in this case were signed by Republican leaders in late December and early January.
One, which was signed with Consovoy McCarthy PLLC, called for paying the company $ 30,000 per month for “pre-litigation advice” starting in January and up to $ 965,000 in 2021.
The other, which was signed with Bell Giftos St. John LLC, asked to pay the company an hourly rate of $ 375 per hour. The cabinet includes Kevin St. John, who was Deputy Attorney General under former Republican Attorney General JB Van Hollen.
A group of plaintiffs represented by Madison attorney Lester Pines have filed a lawsuit, arguing that the Legislature cannot hire the attorneys until a redistribution case is pending.
Ehlke agreed, and when Republicans asked him to “stay” or temporarily suspend his decision pending appeal, he refused. After Republicans appealed the case to the Wisconsin District III Court of Appeals, Appeals Court Judge Lisa Stark also declined to grant a stay. Later, a panel of three judges, including Stark, rendered an almost identical decision.
This prompted Republicans to ask the state Supreme Court to intervene, and although the court has yet to rule on the underlying merits of the case, conservative justices have given GOP leaders the decision they hoped for.
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The court issued two orders on Thursday. In one, which was unanimously handed down by the judges, the court agreed to hear the case. In the other, which was handed down by the conservative bloc of four court judges, the court suspended Judge Ehlke’s decision and reprimanded him for making “errors of law”.
The majority of the court wrote that Ehlke did not consider the Republicans to have “more than the mere possibility” of success on appeal. Tories also wrote that Ehlke failed to take into account the potential harm to lawmakers by denying them to hire lawyers of their choice.
“If the circuit court injunction remains in effect while this appeal is pending, the legislature will not be permitted to have the assistance of attorneys who are focusing on the issue of redistribution once a decade for the short time. window of time during which to have the first opportunity (in accordance with the state constitution) to draw the new districts required, ”the court conservatives wrote.
This potential harm, the conservative judges wrote, outweighed the potential harm to taxpayers if they are forced to pay for legal contracts that are ultimately declared void.
The court’s three liberals disagreed with Judge Rebecca Dallet, writing that it would have been “foolish” for Ehlke to grant the stay when he had just spoken out against lawmakers. Dallet also ridiculed the idea that Republican lawmakers were somehow wronged by a decision that delayed them in hiring private lawyers.
“Lawmakers offer no argument or evidence as to why lawyers from the Department of Justice, Legislative Council, Legislative Reference Office, and Office of Legislative Technology Services are unable to provide legal advice related to rules and regulations. redistribution, ”wrote Dallet. . “The majority are offering only their own baseless speculation that Wisconsin’s redistribution law is too ‘specialized and complex’ for Wisconsin public prosecutors to handle.”
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 non-partisan organizations.
The majority of the court set a deadline for filing briefs in the case which could take up to two months. By then, detailed US Census data should have been released and the redistribution process may have already started in earnest.
Conservative judges have said they will set a timetable for oral argument in the case “in due course”.
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