MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Attorneys hired by Republican lawmakers to assist with last year’s redistricting process withheld 34 emails from groups suing them despite court orders to release the files, according to an investigator’s report.
The report, filed this week as required by a panel of three federal judges, once again reveals that lawyers with Michael Best & Friedrich weren’t forthcoming in providing subpoenaed documents, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report. The judges previously charged the law firm some $17,500 for filing frivolous motions to try to block the release of other records.
A related investigation on why the emails weren’t released earlier is ongoing, and the plaintiffs in the case said they may seek sanctions against Michael Best & Friedrich. They’re also calling for a more detailed review of the law firm’s computers, as well as those used by consultants and legislative employees.
“We still think there are significant resources out there that haven’t been checked,” attorney Doug Poland said. “There is information that remains to be revealed.”
The suppressed emails cover the methods Republicans used last year to draw new legislative and congressional maps that will give their party an edge for the next decade.
A group of Democrats and the immigrant-rights group Voces de la Frontera sued over the maps, alleging in part that the new boundaries weakened Hispanic voting power by separating blocs of Latino voters into different districts.
Included in the suppressed emails were details that show a July 2011 public hearing before a Senate committee was highly orchestrated. Attorneys for the Legislature had recruited people to testify and wrote questions for the Republican members of the committee.
The redistricting team made a determined effort to keep Latinos within the same Senate district so that if a court ordered the maps to be redrawn, the changes could be minimal.
Eight months later, the federal court ruled that the boundaries redrawn on Milwaukee’s south side violated Latinos’ voting rights but the subsequent changes affected only two Assembly districts.
So far, the legal wrangling over the election maps has cost Wisconsin taxpayers more than $1.6 million — $1 million in legal fees to help defend the maps in court, $431,000 to Michael Best & Friedrich for its work drawing the maps and $185,500 to Voces following its successful challenge to the Latino districts.
The taxpayer bill will continue to rise. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has agreed to have the state pay some costs for the other plaintiffs, though he hasn’t specified how much.
The latest maps were produced by GOP lawmakers, who shut Democrats out of the process and instead drew up the maps in secret. The Republicans passed the maps last year in a GOP-led Legislature and Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed them into law.
In August, Democrats took control of the Senate following the recall of a Racine County senator. They demanded the case file from the law firm and released the records to the public.
The plaintiffs compared those records with what they’d been given in the case and discovered new emails that hadn’t been turned over to them as required. That prompted their push for an independent examination of the hard drives, which revealed the 34 suppressed emails.
Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com