Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Milwaukee Will Comply With Subpoenas, But City Attorney Won’t Say How

Spencer big on promises, but short on details.

By - Oct 7th, 2021 01:38 pm
City Attorney Tearman Spencer speaks at an Oct. 7, 2021 press conference. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

City Attorney Tearman Spencer speaks at an Oct. 7, 2021 press conference. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

“It is extremely important that we let you know what is going on and keep you informed,” said City Attorney Tearman Spencer at a press conference his office called Thursday.

The City of Milwaukee, along with four other cities in the state, received a series of subpoenas from former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman related to the 2020 presidential election. Mayor Tom Barrett, Milwaukee Election Commission executive director Claire Woodall-Vogg, City Clerk Jim Owczarski and the city as an entity have all been subpoenaed under a $676,000 investigation authorized by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester).

“I want to let you know that the city intends to comply with reasonable requests made by the special counsel,” said Spencer. “We will approach this with transparency, professionalism and dedication to protect the voting rights and the interests of the parties concerned, and that’s all the voters, the elected officials and all who work for the city.”

So what is the city doing? Spencer said he was trying to save the city money, but wouldn’t say how when asked. He also acknowledged his office, which has seen a number of high-profile resignations and turmoil, is considering requesting funding to hire outside counsel.

“I can’t get into specifics of anything we decided we are going to do that would constitute strategy,” said Spencer.

So not that much transparency.

Spencer did say his office is in communication with the other cities (Green Bay, Kenosha, Madison and Racine) and Gableman.

But when faced with yes or no questions, Spencer rejected the premise. “Is the mayor going to testify on Oct. 22. Yes or no?” asked Fox 6’s Jason Calvi about the appearance date on Barrett’s subpoeana. “That’s not a yes or no question,” responded Spencer.

Will the City of Milwaukee demand the testimony from Barrett, Woodall-Vogg and others be public? “We are going to try to be as transparent as possible,” said Spencer.

Questions eventually turned to issues with personnel at Spencer’s office, including a resignation letter last week from assistant city attorney Christian Thomas that accused Spencer of politically motivated, retaliatory conduct aimed at another employee who had accused him of harassment.

Spencer said he would address that in closed session, something reporters, nor the public would be privy to. “I will assure you what you heard isn’t necessarily the truth,” said Spencer before walking away.

The City Attorney is an independently elected position that serves as the city’s legal counsel.

Issues with Subpoenas

Problems with the subpoenas issued by Gableman abound.

The subpoena sent to Woodall-Vogg actually requested election documents from Green Bay, similar to the copy-and-paste errors that plagued the Trump election lawsuits.

Complying with Gableman’s subpoenas as written is expected to involve the production of hundreds of thousands of documents. Barrett, in a statement Wednesday, said the 10-page request was “broadly worded.”

Similar to a federal suit from Donald Trump‘s campaign, the Milwaukee City Clerk was included. Clerks do administer elections in Wisconsin, except in state-defined cities of the first class (Milwaukee is the only such place). Owczarski is in charge of recording Common Council votes, but Woodall-Vogg has full jurisdiction over elections.

Gableman, in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Tuesday, admitted a lack of understanding with regard to how elections work. “Most people, myself included, do not have a comprehensive understanding or even any understanding of how elections work,” said the former conservative justice.

Gableman might also need to brush up on his Latin. The opening line of his subpoenas reads “subpoena deuces tecum” but the correct term is not deuces, but duces. The phrase is Latin for “you shall bring with you.”

The subpoenas compel the clerks to testify on Oct. 15 in a closed hearing at office space Gableman rented in Brookfield; the mayors on Oct. 22.

Wisconsin Elections Commission executive director Meagan Wolfe has also been subpoenaed.

More about the 2020 General Election

Read more about 2020 General Election here

More about the Turmoil at the City Attorney's Office

Read more about Turmoil at the City Attorney's Office here

Categories: City Hall, Politics, Weekly

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