The GOP-hired attorney conducting a taxpayer-funded review of the state’s 2020 presidential election is threatening jail time for the mayors of Madison and Green Bay for not complying with his request that they meet with him in November. 

The review, led by former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, has become a political flashpoint in Wisconsin in recent weeks. During a Wednesday Assembly hearing, Gableman announced he would seek a court order requiring Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich to answer his questions or be jailed if they declined to do so.

Rhodes-Conway told the Cap Times she found out about the threat through the media — not from the former justice or his office. She called it “par for the course” of how communication with Gableman’s office has been throughout his review. 

She said she wasn’t intimidated by Gableman’s actions, but that they distract from other important work. She expressed concern over the “significant toll” the review has taken on clerks.

“It is absolutely interfering with their ability to do their job,” Rhodes-Conway said.“This is clearly not a serious investigation and it’s clearly not being run by people who are competent or know the law or care about election integrity.”

She said “it looks like they don't know what they’re doing and they’re trying desperately to find something wrong in the way the election happened, not just in Wisconsin in November 2020, but very specifically in Madison.”

In Gableman’s most recent filings, he said Rhodes-Conway and Genrich defied his requests to meet with him in November. Madison City Attorney Michael Haas told the Cap Times his office responded to Gableman’s request for testimony on Nov. 2, but has not heard back.

Both Rhodes-Conway and Haas said they had not had any direct contact with Gableman. The communications they have received from the special counsel’s office have been “so lacking,” Haas said.

For months, Rhodes-Conway has told the media she would testify publicly about Madison’s handling of the 2020 election, instead of behind closed doors. She said in a statement Thursday that Gableman’s recent threat further underscores his team’s “abject lack of professionalism.”

Rhodes-Conway said every step of the process with Gableman’s office has been similar, with the mayor’s office providing numerous documents. She said she was even assured that by providing the documents she wouldn’t have to sit down to answer questions with Gableman — but after providing those documents, the response was “radio silence.”

Haas said he may respond to Gableman’s request to have Rhodes-Conway jailed next week. In the interim, he pointed to a letter from Jeffrey Mandell, an attorney representing Green Bay’s Genrich, as an outline of the legal issues he has with Gableman’s actions.

In his letter to the court, Mandell said Gableman’s request for a “writ of attachment” for the two mayors “has nothing to do with this matter and does not authorize the relief sought here.”

Mandell continued: “the Subpoena upon which (Gableman) relies does not ‘lawfully require’ the testimony that (Gableman) seeks to enforce” because it compels testimony before a legislative committee, not in secret before the former justice.

Mandell also noted an ongoing lawsuit in a Dane County court that could determine whether or not Gableman can use subpoenas to compel secretive testimony in Brookfield. The judge overseeing that case, brought by Attorney General Josh Kaul on behalf of the Wisconsin Elections Commission and its administrator, Meagan Wolfe, will hear oral arguments on Dec. 23.

The Waukesha County Circuit judge who was assigned to Gableman’s motion, Ralph Ramirez, set a hearing for Dec. 10. If the Dane County judge deems Gableman’s subpoenas invalid on Dec. 23, it would likely make the hearing in Waukesha moot.

“The conduct of the special counsel's office just makes us more concerned about testifying privately where the public is not able to have a chance to see what the questions are and what the answers are,” Haas said.

Rhodes-Conway argued the real motivation for the election review had nothing to do with the 2020 election but instead was about repressing turnout in future elections and making the jobs of clerks and poll workers more challenging moving forward. 

Gableman was tapped by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to lead the review, and Rhodes-Conway doesn’t “have a lot of hope” that he and the rest of the Republican-controlled Legislature will move on from the 2020 election. In the months following the election, multiple recounts and lawsuits upheld President Joe Biden’s narrow victory in the state. 

“I don't think there’s any deterring the folks in the Legislature. You see the lengths they’re willing to go to rig the system in their favor,” Rhodes-Conway said. “I do hope that individual folks in Wisconsin and across the country will take a moment and understand that our elections are run at the local level. They’re run by municipal clerks who are honest-to-god the salt of the earth. They’re run by poll workers who are your neighbors.”

Rhodes-Conway said she is disappointed taxpayer dollars are being spent by the state of Wisconsin on a “ridiculous ‘investigation.’”

In total, Wisconsin taxpayers are spending about $40,000 per month on wages for people working on the review. That does not include other expenses the reviewers incur, like travel costs, office space and more.

Gableman’s review of the election in Wisconsin, which was supposed to conclude on Oct. 31, has been, for the most part, conducted in secret. Only this week did Gableman reveal the names of most of the staff that has been assisting him in his review. 

The staff features a wide range of people, including attorneys from Arkansas and California and at least one person who sought to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in Wisconsin. Gableman reported Wednesday that he pays his staff between $40 per hour and $10,000 per month in taxpayer dollars to work on the review. Gableman himself has been earning $11,000 per month in taxpayer money to work on the review.

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