In a frank smackdown not usually seen in judicial rulings, the eastern district federal court ordered the Wisconsin Legislature's outside lawyers to pay attorneys' fees and associated costs for refusing to comply with two previous court orders requiring that they turn over documents in a redistricting lawsuit.
Court sanctions in such situations are rare; even rarer are sanctions imposed on the attorney, not client.
But since Republican lawmakers hired outside representation, the three-judge panel in Milwaukee made it clear that the hired guns, rather than Wisconsin residents, should foot the bill for "the sort of disinformation, foot-dragging, and obfuscation now engaged in by Wisconsin's elected officials and/or their attorneys."
"Mindful of the fact that the state's taxpayers would ultimately bear the cost of ... sanctions, the Court will order that the Legislature's attorneys, Eric M. McLeod, Joseph L. Olson, Aaron H. Kastens and Michael Best & Friedrich LLP -- those ultimately responsible for the sand-bagging, hide-the-ball trial tactics that continue to be employed -- jointly and severally, make payment to plaintiffs" counsel in the form of an award of attorneys fees and costs as a sanction by the Court," wrote U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller in the Tuesday ruling (PDF).
The court also rejected Michael Best's latest -- and third -- attempt to protect a lobbyist who assisted the Legislature in preparing the redistricting plan from being deposed and the documents he helped prepare from being turned over to the Democrats who are challenging the new election districts.
"Cooperate immediately," Stadtmueller wrote. "Neither this Court, the parties in this case, nor Wisconsin's citizens have the interest or time to endure the litigation tactics being used by public officials or their private counsel in what has quickly become a poorly disguised attempt to cover up a process that should have been public from the outset, despite the Legislature's concerted efforts to mask the process behind the closed doors of a private law firm."
McLeod, who has represented Gov. Scott Walker in legal challenges to the governor's law that stripped collective bargaining rights from public workers, made headlines lately when it came out that he represented Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman for free while also appearing before him during arguments before the high court.
The trial to determine whether Wisconsin's redistricting plan is constitutional is scheduled to begin Tuesday, February 21.