The Wisconsin Supreme Court hears oral arguments from private attorneys
On Monday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Andrew Waity v. Devin LeMahieu, the case involving the Wisconsin Republican legislative leaders hiring private lawyers to advise them on lawsuits that might arise over drawing the state’s new voting cards.
Wisconsin law only allows the Senate majority leader Devin LeMahieu and Congregation Speaker Robin Vos are hiring private lawyers to represent them in a specific pending lawsuit, according to a complaint filed by four taxpayers in Dane County District Court in March. With no redistribution-related lawsuits pending when lawyers were hired and no new voting cards even issued, lawmakers had no legal authority to spend thousands of dollars a month in taxpayers’ money to help private lawyers on Keep running keeper.
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Ehlke ruled in April in favor of taxpayers, ruling that in future the legislature will not be able to employ external lawyers before proceedings are pending.
Ehlke The legislature also ordered the cessation of payment for the law firms that were hired, at taxpayers’ expense, to represent the Wisconsin Senate and the Wisconsin Assembly “in potential ten-year redistribution litigation.” That order was blocked by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in July, allowing payments to continue while the case opened.
One of the two disputed contracts with Consovoy McCarthy PLLC provided for paying the company $ 30,000 per month for “pre-litigation advice” from January and up to $ 965,000 in 2021.
The other, signed with Bell Giftos St. John LLC, called for the company to be paid an hourly rate of $ 375.
On Monday, the court heard arguments from both sides.
Misha Tseytlin, the lawmaker’s attorney, stated that on behalf of the Supreme Court, taxpayers “went beyond what the district court did,” arguing that the Wisconsin statute was “the legislature, the courts, or the Administrative authorities have any power to conclude contracts, be it for services or supplies, to buy pens or paper and computers. “
Tseytlin claimed that Wisconsin Statute 16.74, which regulates the purchase of legislative and judicial branches and also mentions contractual services, gives the speaker of parliament and the majority leader in the Senate the power to conclude legally valid contracts.
The original taxpayers case dealt with laws passed in the 2018 Legislature “lame duck” session shortly after Wisconsin elected Democratic Governor Tony Evers and while Republicans were still in governor and both houses of the Held the legislature. During this time the legislature passed a law Allows certain Senate and Assembly committees to hire outside attorneys and intervene in legal proceedings that have involved challenging state laws rather than relying on the (new, democratic) attorney general.
Other statute The procedure, which was also adopted in 2018, allows employees of the Assembly, the Senate or the legislature to appoint external legal advisers for legal disputes in connection with the performance of their official duties.
“Our claim is that these contracts were signed by the spokesman and majority leader and they received legal counsel paid by taxpayers from an unlimited budget when there was no action,” said attorney Lester Pines, who represented taxpayers in the Supreme Court the Examiner. “This is our case. We won that before the district court. “
But the legislature’s arguments before the Supreme Court concerned another law – the one regulating the purchase of supplies and the procurement of professional services.
Judges Brian Hagedorn and Patience Roggensack pursued an issue that appeared to support the legislature’s argument that it was a reasonable interpretation of the law that they should face in anticipation of these inevitable lawsuits.
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No, Pines replied, the wording of the statute was more specific. He cited a 19th century decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
In his opening, Pines sought to appeal to religious members of the court by quoting from the book of Genesis in the Bible and telling the story of Adam and Eve who ate from the tree of knowledge. “That is probably the biggest problem we face as lawyers and judges, that people, lawmakers, citizens do not take responsibility for their own behavior,” he said.
With a smile, Hagedorn, a social conservative, suggested that Pines focus on Wisconsin laws.
“How is it that the legislature can get paper clips and power cables?” Asked Hagedorn, bringing the discussion from the sublime back to everyday life – and where does the statutes say that you can make these purchases, but he added no lawyers ?
Pines responded that the law governing the budgets of the Assembly and Senate gives them “the power to spend that money to function in their very own constitutional work, which is to legislate.”
But contracts that allowed the legislature to spend unlimited taxpayers’ money on private attorneys on pending lawsuits open a floodgate, argued Pines.
The court is expected to rule by the end of the year.