MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin judge on Friday ordered the former chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court to produce records related to her work advising the Republican Assembly speaker on whether to impeach a current justice.
Former Chief Justice Patience Roggensack was one of three former Supreme Court justices asked by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to give him advice on pursuing impeachment. Vos has floated impeachment against liberal Justice Janet Protasiewicz based on how she rules on a pending redistricting lawsuit Democrats hope will result in new legislative electoral maps.
The liberal watchdog group American Oversight filed a lawsuit seeking records from Vos and the three former justices. Vos and two of the former justices, David Prosser and Jon Wilcox, turned over records. That included an email from Prosser to Vos advising against impeachment. Vos turned over more than 20,000 pages of documents last week, American Oversight attorney Ben Sparks said at a Friday hearing.
Wilcox told The Associated Press he did not produce a report, but verbally told Vos impeachment was not warranted.
The only former justice who did not produce any records was Roggensack. She has not said what her advice was to Vos and he has refused to say what it was.
When American Oversight attempted to serve Roggensack with a subpoena at her home, an elderly man who answered the door said he did not know anyone by that name and closed the door, Sparks said in court while quoting a statement from the process server.
On Friday, Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington issued an order giving Roggensack 30 days to produce any records she has.
“Wisconsin has had and continues to have a long and storied tradition on the responsibility of open government," Remington said.
All of the former justices have a responsibility to produce records they maintain related to their work “whether they understood it or not in accepting the invitation to opine on the question presented,” he said.
Roggensack's attorney, Robert Shumaker, did not return a phone message or email seeking comment.
American Oversight posted the records it received from Vos online Friday. It included a text exchange between Vos and his chief of staff where he asks if the conservative group the Institute for Reforming Government could do a poll on recusal to “affect the discussion.”
“Ask them to pay for it and make it public if it helps us,” Vos texted. “I know they're idiots but let's use their $.”
The Institute for Reforming Government issued a statement saying it did not conduct a poll.
“Compliance with state law is very important to IRG and we always work to avoid any illegal, unethical, or improper behavior,” the statement said. The group also defended its staff in light of the Vos insult, saying it employs “some of the smartest people in the policy space.”
Vos originally said he was considering impeachment if Protasiewicz did not recuse herself from the redistricting case. She did not recuse. Vos did not move to impeach her, following the advice against impeachment from the former justices. But now he’s suggesting he may attempt to impeach her if she does not rule in favor of upholding the current Republican-drawn maps.
The Wisconsin Constitution reserves impeachment for “corrupt conduct in office, or for crimes and misdemeanors.”
Republicans have argued Protasiewicz has pre-judged the case based on comments she made during the campaign calling the current maps “unfair” and “rigged.”
Protasiewicz, in her decision not to recuse from the case, said that while stating her opinion about the maps, she never made a promise or pledge about how she would rule on the case.
The redistricting lawsuit, filed the day after Protasiewicz joined the court in August and flipped majority control to 4-3 for liberals, asks that all 132 state lawmakers be up for election next year in newly drawn districts.
The legislative electoral maps drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2011 cemented the party’s majorities, which now stand at 64-35 in the Assembly and a 22-11 supermajority in the Senate. Republicans adopted maps last year that were similar to the existing ones.
Wisconsin’s Assembly districts rank among the most gerrymandered nationally, with Republicans routinely winning far more seats than would be expected based on their average share of the vote, according to an AP analysis.