Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

The Arrogance of Robin Vos

The latest: uses taxpayer-funded lawyer to shield him from revealing how he gerrymandered districts.

By - Mar 21st, 2019 12:06 pm
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Robin Vos. Photo by Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Robin Vos. Photo by Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

The chutzpah of Republican Assembly Robin Vos knows no bounds. 

He was one of the principal architects of a redistricting plan so grossly gerrymandered that it forces Democrats to win 54.7 percent of the statewide vote to gain a majority of the Assembly.

He has claimed the Republicans’ legislative wins in November prove their policies are supported by the people, though GOP legislators won less than 48 percent of the statewide vote. 

He and the Republicans have spent some $3.5 million of the taxpayers’ money — and the bill may exceed $4 million — on private attorneys to secretly construct and then defend one of the most gerrymandered redistricting plans in America.

And Vos did his best to prevent taxpayers from learning the total bill, fighting efforts to release the information on attorneys fees in response to an open records request. 

But his latest ploy may be his most outrageous. Vos is now refusing a subpoena to testify in a federal district court case challenging the constitutionality of Act 43, the redistricting plan he helped create in 2011. That’s right, a paid public servant has refused to accept a legal subpoena asking for him to testify and produce records explaining laws that he passed. By doing so, Vos is adding still more costs for the taxpayer: Ruth Greenwood, the attorney for the plaintiffs, has tried three times to serve Vos or his expensive taxpayer funded attorney Kevin St. John with a subpoena, generating two rounds of dueling correspondence between the lawyers. Every move by Vos to delay and frustrate the legal process simply adds to the taxpayers’ bill. 

Vos doesn’t seem to have a legal leg to stand on. Recall that an earlier federal district decision already ruled that Act 43 is an unconstitutional example of gerrymandering. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which sent it back down to the federal district court, ruling that Greenwood and the plaintiffs must not just prove the Legislature acted with partisan intent on a statewide basis, but in a way that specifically reduced voters rights in 29 districts, as Greenwood and company have argued. 

And there were only two individuals involved in all the legislative meetings to redistrict Wisconsin: Vos and legislative aide Adam Foltz, who has testified that it was the legislative leaders who made the decisions on district boundaries. So no one but Vos can fully explain how these decisions were made. Which is why he is hiding. 

His attorney St. John argues that a public official like Vos has “legislative privilege” and is immune from civil suits, but Greenwood’s brief notes that Vos already waived this right by “actively participating in the litigation, including filing motions and discovery requests.” She also points to a long list of court cases where redistricting plans were challenged and legislators were “deposed and/or required to produce documents regardless of any claim to legislative privilege.” 

She also notes that once legislators like Vos consulted with outside experts in crafting Act 43 they effectively waived their privilege. She quotes a devastating conclusion of an earlier federal district court decision, Baldus v. Brennan, on Wisconsin’s redistricting that slapped down such a claim by Vos and the Republicans: “the Court finds it all but disingenuous…when the Legislature clearly did not concern itself with maintaining that privilege when it hired outside consultants to help develop its plans. The Legislature has waived its legislative privilege…” 

St. John also argues that poor Vos is too busy to bother with this pesky federal district court case. This, you see, will divert “his time, energy and attention away from legislative tasks.” 

But this “burden” is one Vos “has chosen to carry by intervening as a defendant in the current case,” Greenwood notes. And “on numerous occasions, Speaker Vos has found the time to discuss the question of Act 43 and gerrymandering,” including his statements at a WisPolitics luncheon and to a reporter for a story in New York magazine. 

But beyond all the legalities here is the issue of one of the state’s top public officials, a legislative leader who some expect to run for governor in 2022, thumbing his nose at the public, and refusing to cooperate with a federal court case determining the rights of this state’s voters. 

Vos won’t even explain to the voters why he refuses to cooperate with this case. He declined to respond to a request for comment from Urban Milwaukee and has given no statement to the press. Instead he is hiding behind the statements of his expensive lawyer, in essence giving his attorney more billable hours paid for by the taxpayers, to shield Vos from the scrutiny of those taxpayers. 

It’s priceless. The Assembly Speaker won’t speak one word about this to the public. 

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More about the Gerrymandering of Legislative Districts

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

One thought on “Murphy’s Law: The Arrogance of Robin Vos”

  1. Patricia Jursik says:

    “Legislative Immunity” is not equal to: “The King can do no wrong”. Vos and his ilk act as if their elected office is a personal position. In fact, it is a representative capacity. It is the citizens’ rights, not those of Vos, the “man”.

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