Third ethics complaint filed against Gableman
Former Justice Michael Gableman | Screenshot from YouTube
A progressive law firm has filed an ethics complaint against former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman for his conduct during his widely derided review of the 2020 presidential election.
The 108-page complaint is the third ethics complaint filed against Gableman for his actions during the 13-month investigation — which ultimately turned up zero evidence of election fraud and ended with Gableman being fired by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington). The complaint argues that Gableman repeatedly violated the state Supreme Court’s rules for attorneys and the oath he took as an attorney in Wisconsin.
More than half a dozen times throughout the document, lawyers for the firm, Law Forward, write that Gableman’s work and actions during the review demonstrated “incompetence” as he misrepresented his work to city officials, judges and the public and frequently used his “office of special counsel” to target and harass his perceived enemies.
The complaint was filed with the state court system’s Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR), which enforces Wisconsin’s standards of professional conduct for lawyers and investigates grievances filed against attorneys. If an investigation by OLR staff determines that there is sufficient evidence for the allegation, the office’s director makes a decision on whether or not the case should proceed.
The allegation is then presented to a review committee which determines if the cause should proceed to the state Supreme Court. The court then determines what the discipline should be. Previous ethics complaints have been filed against Gableman for his conduct during a hearing in Dane County and by a former lawyer in Milwaukee County for his assertion that the Legislature should look into decertifying the results of the 2020 election.
The complaint from Law Forward alleges that Gableman’s conduct requires professional sanction.
“Gableman waged a shambolic, dishonest, and destructive campaign against Wisconsin’s democracy at taxpayer expense and in the guise of a public official,” attorneys Dan Lenz and Jeffrey Mandell wrote in the complaint. “In addition to incompetently practicing law, Gableman repeatedly failed in his duties of honesty and candor; used legal process to harass and maliciously injure his targets; failed to appropriately maintain an attorney-client relationship; flouted additional basic rules of legal practice; and violated multiple provisions of the Attorney’s Oath. We respectfully submit that Gableman’s repeated failures to abide by the Rules in conducting a taxpayer-funded boondoggle requires a response from the Office of Lawyer Regulation.”
The complaint makes the case that for nearly the entirety of Gableman’s review, he was violating the state’s rules for attorney conduct, some of which he was involved with creating during his time on the Supreme Court.
When Gableman was first hired in the summer of 2021 to search for fraud during the election, he spent the first two months working out of the New Berlin Public Library “researching” election law and traveling out of state to attend conferences held by election conspiracists and visiting the group conducting a similar review in Arizona.
The complaint alleges that these two months, for which he was paid $22,000 plus the expenses for the trips, were a misuse of taxpayer money and showed his apparent failure to even attempt to learn about the subject of his work. Gableman’s alleged misuse of taxpayer money is a major theme of the complaint. A Wispolitics.com analysis has found that the costs of Gableman’s review, in fees for out-of-state attorneys, damages assessed for violating the state’s open records law, salaries for Gableman and his staff and the travel expenses the review incurred, have cost more than $2 million in taxpayer money.
“He persisted in promoting unlawful ideas and theories, and he hired attorneys from other states who had little to no knowledge of Wisconsin’s election laws and who failed to acquire that knowledge or provide anything of value to Wisconsin’s Assembly or taxpayers,” the complaint states. “Having hired out-of-state attorneys, he also charged taxpayers thousands of dollars for their flights, hotel stays, and other expenses when they visited Wisconsin. These costs would have been entirely unnecessary or significantly lower for Wisconsin-based attorneys, and even for competent out-of-state counsel they would have been questionable, given the availability of remote-work options that legal professionals and courts have had to learn to use since 2020.”
The complaint states that Gableman broke “rules regarding the expectation of honesty, truthfulness, and candor; rules against harassing and malicious behavior; rules governing the relationship between attorneys and their clients and rules requiring attorneys to follow and uphold their oath.”
“This lack of basic competence infected every aspect of Gableman’s work. Despite a long career in the law, including service to the state as a Justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Gableman apparently either never learned, or chose to forget, the Rules applicable to attorneys and, potentially as a result, violated many of them,” the complaint states.
In addition to the use of public money, the complaint addresses the unusual relationship his review had with the conservative nonprofit, the Thomas More Society, the nebulous contracts he held with the Assembly, the persistent changing of who Gableman said his client was, violations of the attorney-client relationship and malicious attacks on officials.
During the review, Gableman threatened to have Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich and Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway thrown in jail for not complying with his subpoenas despite the fact that they’d provided thousands of pages of documents to his office.
He also criticized the clothing and personal appearance of Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe.
“Beginning immediately after the election and continuing through to the present day, Gableman has embraced conspiracy theories, spread lies, rejected facts, impugned the character of people he perceives to be his adversaries, and abused the legal process,” the complaint states. “These antics garnered praise and attention from national figures including former President Trump, media figure Tucker Carlson, and Steve Bannon. Although we have argued that much of his work reflected a deep and abiding incompetence, it is equally apparent that this incompetence was exacerbated by malice, which should never drive the actions of any Wisconsin attorney, let alone one hired to serve the interests of people of this state. The attorney’s oath is a poignant reminder of the obligations and expectations of an attorney. As a judge or justice, Gableman may well have administered this oath. As an attorney, he was bound to it. It is therefore remarkable that, in the course of only a year, he managed to violate its every tenet.”
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