A bit of history is needed so the impact of todays news can be understood better:
You'll need to remember Wisconsins horrendous redistricting maps which were drawn in secret by the Republican law firm of Michael Best & Friedrich, rammed through a Republican dominated Legislature, and then quickly signed into law by Governor Scott Walker (R-FitzWalkerStan). Not only drawn in secret, but done within Michael Bests private offices near the State Capitol so only Republicans who signed an oath of secrecy could access them. Democrats weren't allowed. At all. Even when they asked, demanded, and begged. No. No way. The redistricting maps were rushed through votes, but even in the warp speed legislative process Democrats could easily see that the maps would help Republicans stay in command of state Government.
2 groups sued over the redistricting. The 3 judge federal panel who heard the case, fined Republicans over refusals and delays in producing the documents needed in the case, ultimately concluded that only 2 districts in a heavily Latino portion of Milwaukee needed to be changed. The remainder of the GOP gerrymander survived intact.
When Democrat John Lehman won the June 5 recall election and took his place in the State Senate, control of that body transferred to the Democrats. One of the first things that the new State Senate leader did was to contact Michael Best & Friedrich to obtain all of the documents related to redistricting. It was the first time that anyone outside of the GOP had any access.
And this leads us to today:
Attorneys hired by Republican lawmakers withheld 34 emails from groups suing them despite three stern court orders to release them, according to a forensic examiner's report filed late Monday.
The report once again highlights that lawyers with Michael Best & Friedrich were not forthcoming with providing subpoenaed documents even after a panel of three federal judges charged them some $17,500 for filing frivolous motions to try to block the release of the records.
The three-judge panel in Milwaukee ruled in March that two Assembly districts on Milwaukee's south side violated the voting rights of Latinos, and the court later set new boundaries for them. Despite that adverse ruling, Republicans were able to keep in place the lines for all the other Assembly, state Senate and congressional districts - giving their party a boon in elections for the next decade.Of course, the GOP that always says "we're broke" didn't mind forking out piles of taxpayer cash to Michael Best or others and has also been forced to pay the costs of litigation.
But the ongoing fight over emails continues to dog Republicans. The groups suing the state found some emails that should have been turned over and asked the court in August to order an independent forensic examiner to review hard drives to find any other records that had been improperly withheld.
So far, the litigation has cost Wisconsin taxpayers more than $1.6 million - $1 million to the law firm Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren to help defend the maps in court, $431,000 to Michael Best for its work drawing the maps and $185,500 to Voces to cover its costs for its successful challenge to the Latino districts.
Taxpayers will have to pay more. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has agreed to have the state pay some costs for the other plaintiffs, though he has not said how much.
It's hardly surprising. The GOP arranged to draw the maps in secret (and outside of the State Capitol) to prevent mandatory public disclosure not only to Democrats, but to the general public, as well. The whole thing smelled from top to bottom as they did a rapid fire ram through of the redistricting before the implications of the new districts could be evaluated or even discussed.
Of course, anyone familiar with Republican shenanigans in Wisconsin should recognize the name Michael Best & Friedrich:
--- Upon election as Governor, Scott Walker hired Michael Best and Friedrich as the official law firm for his administration (at taxpayer expense, of course)
--- GOP national chairman Reince Priebus is a partner
--- Tommy Thompsons son, Jason, works for them (he's recently infamous for his "send him back to Kenya" remark)
--- They represented nototious State Supreme Court Justice Gableman (for free) in his ethics case and received his vote on every single Supreme Court case since, including the redistricting case in which Michael Best was not only the defense, but the conjurors of the maps themselves. Justice Gableman, of course, has never seen the need to recuse himself on any of those.
--- The Walker campaign hired Steven Biscupic, former Bush appointed US Attorney of the law firm of Michael Best in late 2010 to aide them in the John Doe Probes campaign email subpoena.
So this is a law firm name we all know.
What comes of the 34 emails is anyones guess. However, what they reveal is quite stunnng:
A July 2011 public hearing before two legislative committees was highly orchestrated.Stay tuned. I can imagine that failing to turn over documents like this, particularly under a court order, might have some future legal implications. Sadly, we're stuck with those gerrymandered maps for this election.
Attorneys for the Republicans recruited sympathetic people to testify and outlined their testimony for them, and they also wrote questions for the Republican members of the committees. One email from attorney Jim Troupis to others working on redistricting discussed plans to prepare Republicans on the committee for the public hearing. "I assume this is just to say, 'Don't say much' . . . " Troupis wrote.
The redistricting team made a concerted effort to keep Latinos within the same Senate district so that if a court found problems with the way the maps were drawn, the changes that were needed would be minimal.
Each Senate district includes three Assembly districts. The Republican attorneys anticipated a court could see problems in the way the Assembly districts were drawn in Hispanic areas of Milwaukee, so they ensured all those areas were drawn inside the 3rd Senate District.
That way, if a court ordered changes to the Assembly districts, the lines could be redrawn without affecting any Senate districts. Troupis called that "a key litigation strategy" in a July 17, 2011, email to others working on redistricting.
Lawyers working on the case were divided on how to handle Latino districts, and that created a source of tension between Troupis and the Michael Best attorneys. Troupis is a former Michael Best partner who founded his own firm and was retained to assist his old firm with redistricting.
Troupis warned in July 2011 that they needed to consider redrawing the lines in Latino areas, but he could not persuade the others to make changes. Troupis' unheeded advice created problems later, because the state lost the part of the case covering those districts.
Around that time, Troupis sent an email thanking two legislative aides working on the maps, Tad Ottman and Adam Foltz, telling them they "have done a GREAT job on all this. By Friday, perhaps you'll be able to take a day off . . . maybe . . . "
Also receiving the email were two Michael Best attorneys, Eric McLeod and Ray Taffora.
McLeod responded in an email to Taffora about Troupis. "God this guy is a total (expletive)," McLeod wrote.
Responded Taffora: "I think that Tad and (especially) Adam have Jim's 'number,' as my parents generation would say. He's hurt himself in this engagement. Given enough 'rope' he'll do further damage to himself as time goes by."