Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos had no legal authority to hire private attorneys to represent them in anticipated redistricting fights before any litigation had even been filed, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Ehlke ruled Thursday morning.
The declaratory judgment makes the contract with the two outside firms void and declares that it is illegal for Vos and LeMahieu to pay those lawyers for any services.
The complaint was filed by attorneys with Pines Bach on behalf of four Wisconsin taxpayers. The plaintiffs contended that the legislative leaders had no legal authority to spend taxpayer money to hire private outside attorneys ahead of the 2021 redistricting process.
Attorney Lester Pines, who filed the lawsuit, argued that the contracts only allowed the firms to communicate with LeMahieu and Vos, thus shutting out the rest of the Legislature, in particular the Democrats. He told the Wisconsin State Journal that this set up would allow Republicans to “draft a [redistricting] bill secretly as they did in 2011.”
Law Forward filed as amicus curiae “friend of the court” brief on behalf of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign offering “additional reasons legislative leadership is not permitted to spend public funds on this clearly partisan political activity,” according to the group’s brief. Its attorneys point out that if the Legislature needs technical or legal assistance it can use the Attorney General’s office or any of the legislative service agencies that are already funded by the taxpayers.
Matt Rothschild, executive director of the Democracy Campaign heralded it as good news: “Judge Ehlke didn’t buy for a minute any of the poor excuses that Vos and LeMahieu gave for misappropriating our taxpayer dollars for some down-the-road litigation over the rigging of the maps that they’re planning.”