MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice whom Republicans hired to investigate the 2020 election has made a reasonable effort to find records from his office and is no longer in contempt of court, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington's ruling ends his participation in a liberal watchdog group's lawsuit seeking records from Michael Gableman's investigation. Remington has been critical of Gableman for months and managed to get in a few parting shots, writing that the records Gableman turned over were hardly substantial and that his investigation turned up nothing.
“If (Gableman's office) did not create strategic records, then what did (the office) do with the resources given to it by the people of the state of Wisconsin?" Remington wrote. “There simply is nothing there.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos hired Gableman in June 2021 at taxpayer expense to investigate unfounded claims that Joe Biden somehow stole the election from former President Donald Trump. Multiple reviews and recounts have determined that Biden's victory was legitimate.
Gableman's Wisconsin probe has so far cost taxpayers more than $1.1 million. Vos finally ended it on Friday, firing Gableman after the former justice endorsed Vos' primary opponent and called for decertifying Biden's win in Wisconsin, a move Vos has repeatedly said is legally impossible.
Liberal watchdog group American Oversight filed four lawsuits seeking records from Gableman's office. One of them landed in Remington's court. He held Gableman in contempt in June for refusing to comply with American Oversight's record requests and for berating him from the witness stand. He ordered Gableman to conduct a comprehensive search for the records and fined him $2,000 a day until he complied.
Remington released an order Wednesday saying Gableman submitted an affidavit on June 28 saying he had conducted the search. Remington said the affidavit was vague but he was satisfied that Gableman had made a reasonable effort to find the records and held that he was no longer in contempt. He ordered the former justice to pay $24,000 to cover the 12 days between the contempt finding and the affidavit submittal.
American Oversight attorney Christa Westerberg told Remington in court on Tuesday that the group had received most of the records it requested but were still missing several documents. Gableman's attorney, James Bopp, insisted that those records don't exist and that Gableman had satisfied the group's request.
Remington berated Bopp and his team for arguing that records had to be withheld because they were “strategic” to the investigation. The records Gableman eventually turned over included mostly blank pages, dozens of pages of duplicates and a complaint against film and television actors for criticizing the government, the judge wrote, demonstrating that the investigation accomplished nothing.
The judge concluding his ruling by throwing Bopp and his fellow attorneys off the case, saying that trying to assert that such records were strategic amounts to incompetency.
Bopp said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that it was pointless to throw his firm off the case since it's all but over in Remington's court. He added that he has appealed the contempt ruling — Gableman doesn't want to pay $24,000 because he eventually complied with the records request — and has already been admitted to work on that effort.
Heather Sawyer, executive director of American Oversight, said the investigation wasted taxpayer dollars promoting “dangerously false claims of voter fraud” and praising Remington for removing Bopp and his attorneys.