MADISON, Wis. (AP) — State Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, the chamber’s top Republican, has approved payments of about $31,000 to a law firm that helped the GOP draw favorable new election maps, a development whose timing outraged Democrats preparing to take control of the Senate.
Senate chief Clerk Jeff Renk said Fitzgerald approved the payment last week. Renk declined to immediately provide the amount of the payment, but Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach said Renk told him it was about $31,000, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report.
“It’s this kind of stuff that gives lawyers a wonderful name, isn’t it?” Erpenbach said Friday. “I’ve got to really question the timing of it.”
The payment comes as Democrats prepare to take over the Senate on Monday, when Democrat John Lehman of Racine will be sworn in following his victory over Republican Sen. Van Wanggaard in last month’s recall election.
In all, taxpayers have spent more than $1.5 million to have the maps drawn and defended in court. The maps delineate the boundaries for legislative and congressional districts, accounting for changes in population. They’re redrawn every 10 years.
Republicans, who controlled all of state government last year, drew maps that greatly benefited their party, and hired help from the law offices of Michael Best & Friedrich and the Troupis Law Office. The firms were to represent the entire Senate and Assembly as institutions, but lawyers at the firms kept minority Democrats in the dark.
Democrats have repeatedly demanded files related to the case, and will be in a better position to get them once in control of the Senate.
But Republicans and the Michael Best law firm may still resist such efforts. Asked if the firm would turn over files to Democrats, Michael Best attorney Raymond Taffora repeatedly referred questions to Fitzgerald. Neither Fitzgerald nor his aides responded to questions.
The Senate and Assembly initially paid Michael Best and Troupis $400,000 for their work on the maps. The latest payment brings the total to $431,000.
In addition, Gov. Scott Walker approved paying $925,000 to another law firm to help the state Department of Justice defend the maps in federal court. And last month, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen agreed to pay $185,500 to an immigrant-rights group, one of the plaintiffs in the suit. The Justice Department is still negotiating fee totals with the other plaintiff’s group.
A panel of federal judges ruled in March that Republicans violated Latinos’ voting rights by splitting a strong Hispanic voting bloc in Milwaukee into two weaker ones, but let the other maps stand.
Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com