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Lawsuit challenges GOP hiring of redistricting attorneys

March 10, 2021 GMT

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges that the Republican leaders of the Wisconsin Legislature illegally hired private taxpayer-funded attorneys to represent them in anticipation of lawsuits over redistricting.

The lawsuit filed by attorney Lester Pines on behalf of four Madison teachers, including the current and incoming teachers union president, argues that state law does not allow for legislative leaders to hire attorneys outside the state Department of Justice before a lawsuit has been filed. The Legislature has yet to begin the redistricting process and there are no pending lawsuits.

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Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu entered into contracts in December and January with two outside law firms to handle the redistricting process, including any future lawsuits. The contracts allowed for spending of more than $1 million in taxpayer money to the two law firms.

The Republican leaders hired attorneys Adam Mortara and Consovoy McCarthy with a Washington-area law firm that represented former President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee.

Under that contract, the state began paying $30,000 a month starting in January to cover consulting. The monthly fee will jump to $200,000 a month in July or when a lawsuit is filed, whichever comes first.

They also hired former Wisconsin Deputy Attorney General Kevin St. John at the Madison firm Bell Giftos St. John. His contract calls for him and his colleagues to be paid an hourly rate of $375.

The lawsuit filed in Dane County Circuit Court on Wednesday seeks to stop any payments to the law firms and any work they may be doing on redistricting. Pines, the attorney who brought it, frequently represents Democrats, including Gov. Tony Evers, and their interests.

“The lawsuit filed today is frivolous and brought by an activist liberal attorney for purposes of making money for himself and will prove to be a waste of taxpayer resources,” Vos said in a statement that did not address the actual claims made in the lawsuit.

LeMahieu did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The Legislature is tasked every 10 years with drawing new maps for congressional and state legislative district boundaries. Republicans control the Legislature, but their maps have to be signed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to become law. Given the unlikelihood of that happening, lawsuits are expected.

Ten years ago Republicans passed maps that were signed by then-Gov. Scott Walker, helping to cement GOP control of the Legislature over the past decade. Numerous lawsuits were filed over those maps that lasted for years, but they resulted in the adjustment of boundaries for two Assembly districts on Milwaukee’s south side.