Wisconsin election investigator fined $2K daily for contempt
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A judge on Wednesday issued a scathing ruling against the investigator hired by Republicans to look into the 2020 election in Wisconsin, accusing him of unprofessional and misogynistic conduct, forwarding his decision for possible disciplinary action against Michael Gableman.
Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington ordered that Gableman be fined $2,000 a day until he complies with his earlier ruling. He also determined that Gableman violated his oath as an attorney following his “disruptive and disrespectful” appearance in court last week. At that hearing, Remington found a defiant Gableman to be in contempt after he refused to answer questions under subpoena in the courtroom. His attorneys tried unsuccessfully to block the subpoena.
“Wisconsin demands more from its attorneys,” Remginton wrote. “Gableman’s demeaning conduct has discredited the profession and every other person sworn ’to commit themselves to live by the constitutional processes of our system.”
The order comes in an open records lawsuit filed by liberal government watchdog group American Oversight. It is one of three open records lawsuits the group filed against Gableman, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and the state Assembly. The group has won a series of victories before Remington and another Dane County judge after Gableman and Vos failed to produce the requested records in a timely manner.
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Gableman’s attorneys did not immediately return messages seeking comment on the judge’s order.
Remington chided Gableman for what he called his “unprofessional conduct” and for launching into “an irrelevant diatribe” at last week’s hearing. Remington forwarded the order to the office that hands down disciplinary actions against attorneys and judges in Wisconsin. Gableman could face additional sanctions that include suspension or revocation of his license to practice law.
His order cites comments Gableman made that were captured by the microphone while the court was in recess where he made sarcastic comments about the judge and the ability of American Oversight’s attorney Christa Westerberg to do her job without the help of the judge.
“Why don’t you come right up to the bench, Ms. Westerberg?” Gableman said at the hearing as quoted in the ruling, impersonating the judge. “Why – why don’t you come back into my chambers so you can dictate.”
Remington said Gableman’s behavior was misogynistic and an “affront to the judicial process and an insult” to Westerberg.
“The sophomoric innuendo about Atty. Westerberg coming back to chambers is a sad reminder that in 2022, woman lawyers still have to do more than be excellent at their job,” the judge said.
Westerberg did not immediately return a message seeking comment. American Oversight attorney Dan Schwager praised the ruling in a statement, saying he hoped it would compel Gableman to comply with the order and release all of the requested records.
Gableman, during his testimony, said he would not be “railroaded” and accused the judge of advocating against him. Remington, in his order, said he would ignore the comment, but he referenced the killing earlier this month of a retired Wisconsin judge.
“Unfortunately, the Court has observed firsthand the effect of Gableman’s unfounded accusation that I am biased and that I am an advocate for American Oversight,” Remington wrote. “I have been made aware of threats, for example, that I had ‘better watch my back,’ or ‘I hope the judge has a gun.’ One online suggestion has been for a group to protest at my home as has been reported at the home of United States Supreme Court Justice Kavanagh.”
Gableman was hired a year ago by Vos, under pressure from Donald Trump to investigate the former president’s loss to President Joe Biden by just under 21,000 votes in Wisconsin. The investigation has cost taxpayers about $900,000 so far. Biden’s victory has survived two recounts, multiple lawsuits, a nonpartisan audit and a review by a conservative law firm.
Gableman has issued two interim reports, but his work has faced a barrage of bipartisan criticism. Vos put his work on hold this spring pending the outcome of lawsuits challenging his ability to subpoena elected officials and others who worked on elections.
Remington said Gableman intended to use his appearance in court to distract from his office’s failure to comply with past court orders to supply records requested by American Oversight.
“The transcript of these events does not tell the whole story,” Remington said. “It does not show Gableman’s raised voice, his accusatory tone and his twisted facial expression. It does not show that as he spoke, he pointed and shook his finger at the judge. ... This strategy might work elsewhere, but it has no place in a courtroom.”