The Wisconsin State Legislature has contracted with a Chicago law firm to defend the legislative districts that the GOP drew back in 2011. But for some reason Assembly Speaker Robin Vos won’t release the details of the contract to the press:
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos won’t make public a legal contract that will cost taxpayers $850,000, despite a state law meant to ensure government records are widely available.
Advocates for open records say the Rochester Republican is in the wrong and must release a copy of the contract with the Chicago-based law firm Bartlit Beck.
Assembly Republicans recently retained the firm to help defend the state in a long-running lawsuit over legislative district lines they drew in 2011 that have helped them win elections. Taxpayers have already spent more than $2 million in legal fees to draw and defend those maps.
There are two major questions that come to me immediately after reading this…before I even get to the Robin Vos refusal. And maybe some of you who have been following this more closely than I can fill in the details in the comments.
First, Why aren’t we relying on the Attorney General to handle this? I imagine we were under Brad Schimel but are they running away from a Democrat as AG?
And second, if they can’t use the AG for whatever reason, there isn’t a Wisconsin law firm capable of handling the defense of their redistricting?
Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer declined to release the contract to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, claiming it was subject to attorney-client privilege. The Assembly has made public its contracts with other firms handling redistricting work and Govs. Scott Walker and Jim Doyle routinely released copies of contracts with law firms they hired.
Beyer did not say why Vos believed this contract was different.
Attorney-client privilege? Who is the client here? If it is the State of Wisconsin or the Wisconsin legislature…the client is the residents of Wisconsin as a whole and we have a right to see the contract.
If the client is Speaker Vos as an individual or other elected officials as individuals…the residents of Wisconsin shouldn’t be liable for $850,000 in legal fees.
Releasing the contract would make clear when the Assembly finalized it and explain how the fee arrangement with the firm works. Unlike many firms, Bartlit Beck typically charges flat fees rather than by the hour.
According to Beyer, the state will pay the firm $850,000 to work on the case through trial this spring. She has not said what the firm would charge for any appeal work.
So it seems that the contract is with the State of Wisconsin…the taxpayers are funding the contract…and it should be released to the public post haste. Transparency!!! The linked article above includes opinions from both sides of the controversy and is worth reading.
But if you scroll down and read to the end…in later paragraphs…is the explanation of what is probably going on. Once again the legislature is taking power from the executive branch…in this case the attorney general…and in fact covering their posteriors!
Litigation has been ongoing over the election maps since lawmakers began working on them in 2011. In October, Assembly leaders with the help of Bartlit Beck asked to intervene in the case in part because they feared Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel could lose his November election.
Schimel lost to Democrat Josh Kaul and a week later the court allowed Assembly Republicans to intervene in the case.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise…well…other than hiding the contract from public scrutiny…since the legislature gave themselves additional authority during the lame duck sessions to hire outside law firms to defend or prosecute state laws and statutes going forward.
Yeah, yeah, I know…it’s just to balance the power between the executive branch and the legislative branch. My thoughts: [redacted]