Gableman seeks to jail two mayors if they don't sit for interviews as part of his partisan election review

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This story was republished on Jan. 7, 2022 to make it free for all readers

MADISON — An attorney for Assembly Republicans is seeking to jail the mayors of Madison and Green Bay if they don't sit for depositions soon — even though the two say he never gave them a final date for when they were supposed to meet with him.

A lawyer for Green Bay's mayor fired back Thursday, saying he planned to pursue legal sanctions against Michael Gableman, the former state Supreme Court justice who is overseeing the Republican review of the election.

Gableman this week sought court orders requiring Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich to answer his questions or be jailed if they decline to do so.

In his filings, he contended the pair had defied his request that they meet with him in November. The two have disputed they were required to meet with him then.

Jeffrey Mandell, a lawyer for Green Bay, sent a letter to Waukesha County Circuit Judge Ralph Ramirez saying Gableman's legal work was so shoddy that he would seek legal sanctions against Gableman.

Mandell argued Gableman had filed the wrong kind of lawsuit in the wrong court. The type of case Gableman brought should only be used when private individuals have disputes over money, Mandell contended.

"Based on our initial review, the Petition is not only lacking in legal merit and built upon a gross distortion of the relevant facts, but it departs so greatly from legal standards that Mayor Genrich intends to serve the Special Counsel with a motion for sanctions," Mandell wrote, using Gableman's formal title.

In October, Mandell sent Gableman's chief of staff a letter saying he understood Gableman was not immediately seeking testimony from Green Bay officials. Gableman's team didn't respond to that letter so Genrich had no reason to think he needed to meet with Gableman, Mandell wrote.

Similarly, Madison City Attorney Michael Haas on Nov. 2 sent Gableman a letter telling him he understood from past discussions with Gableman's team that no one from Madison was required to testify "unless we are provided with a more specific scope of inquiry and reach an agreement on other details such as the format and length of any deposition."

Haas said Gableman never responded to that letter.

Rhodes-Conway has repeatedly said she would happily discuss how the 2020 election was conducted but believes her testimony should be given publicly, not behind closed doors as Gableman has insisted. On Thursday, she accused Gableman's team of having an "abject lack of professionalism."

"We here in Madison remain ready to share the details of how we ran a safe and fair election during a global pandemic before the legislative committee where taxpayers can see how their money is being spent," she said in a statement.

Gableman's filings complicate an already messy legal dispute over how he will conduct his review of the election.

Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul sued Gableman in Dane County Circuit Court in October to block subpoenas issued to the state Elections Commission. Gableman has argued in court filings that Kaul and the commission don't have the authority to sue him.

Gableman filed his actions in Waukesha County, where his office is located.

A hearing in the case against the mayors is scheduled for Dec. 22. A hearing in the Dane County case is to be held the next day.

Green Bay is seeking to have the Waukesha case thrown out, delayed or combined with the Dane County case, according to Mandell's letter.

Gableman filed his lawsuit on Monday and announced he had done so Wednesday during an appearance before the Assembly Elections Committee.

His lawsuit for days did not show up in the state's online database of court cases. Copies of them were obtained by PBS Wisconsin and posted online on Thursday, and later that date the court posted a record of the suit as well.

Officials with the two cities said they have not yet been served with the lawsuit, but have seen copies of them that were posted online.

Gableman hopes to interview the mayors about grants their cities received from the Center for Tech and Civic Life to help them run their elections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The center gave grants to more than 200 Wisconsin communities, but the vast majority of the funding — $8.8 million — went to the five largest cities: Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Racine and Kenosha. The center's funding came from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan.

Courts have found the grants were legally allowed. Republicans have contended they were unfair because so much of the money went to cities with large populations of Democrats.

Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in Wisconsin by nearly 21,000 votes, or 0.6 percentage points. Recounts and court rulings upheld his victory and a recent legislative audit provided no evidence that would suggest the results were wrong.

Assembly Republicans say more review is warranted and have given Gableman a taxpayer-funded budget of $676,000.

Gableman is a former state Supreme Court justice who claimed without evidence last year that the election was stolen. He has surrounded himself with former Trump officials and election conspiracy theorists as he has conducted his review of the election.

Contact Patrick Marley at Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Gableman seeks to jail mayors if they don't sit for interviews in election review