Wisconsin Public Radio

Judge Prohibits Republicans Using Private Lawyers for Redistricting

Suit filed in attempt to stop Republicans from drawing maps in secret.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Apr 29th, 2021 02:11 pm
Robin Vos and Devin LeMahieu

Robin Vos and Devin LeMahieu

A judge has voided contracts Wisconsin Republican lawmakers reached with two private law firms to handle redistricting, ruling that the state Legislature can’t hire its own attorneys until there’s a lawsuit pending.

Republicans finalized the contracts months ago in advance of the redistricting process that’s slated to take place this year. That process, which will help determine which party controls the Legislature for the next decade, is all but certain to lead to lawsuits.

But in a decision handed down Thursday, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Ehlke ruled that because there’s no lawsuit pending now, it’s premature for the Legislature to hire attorneys.

“Under the plain terms of the statute the defendants did not have authority to enter into the two contracts at issue in this case,” Ehlke wrote.

While the decision won’t prevent GOP legislators from hiring their own lawyers later this year, the attorney who brought the case said it could make it harder for Republicans to use private firms to draw the maps in secret.

“That’s why we brought the lawsuit,” said Lester Pines, a Madison attorney who has represented Democrats in a long list of high-profile cases. “To make sure that (Assembly Speaker) Robin Vos and (Senate Majority Leader) Devin LeMahieu and their caucuses could not operate secretly to do redistricting.”

In 2011, GOP leaders hired a private law firm to help draw the legislative maps that have stood for more than a decade. During that redistricting process, rank-and-file Republican legislators were asked to sign confidentiality agreements before reviewing their new district lines.

Spokespeople for Vos and LeMahieu did not immediately respond to requests for comment about Thursday’s decision.

Republicans are likely to appeal the ruling to the Wisconsin Supreme Court where conservatives hold a 4-3 majority. Pines said there was nothing in the law that prevented GOP leaders from hiring outside counsel for that appeal.

Judge Blocks Republicans Lawmakers From Hiring Outside Lawyers For Redistricting was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

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