State Superintendent Tony Evers said Tuesday he is declining legal representation from the Wisconsin Department of Justice in a lawsuit brought by a conservative law firm. Attorney General Brad Schimel said he will not step aside.
Evers, a Democrat, is one of several candidates seeking to challenge Gov. Scott Walker in 2018. Both Walker and Schimel are Republicans.
The impasse could require the state Supreme Court to determine who represents Evers. The court has not yet agreed to hear the case in question in the first place.
Evers sought to be represented by his own attorney, but Walker said last week he would be represented by DOJ. The case, filed by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty on behalf of teachers and school board members from Marshfield and New London, seeks to challenge the state superintendent's ability to pass administrative rules without the governor's approval.
WILL president and general counsel Rick Esenberg said his organization hopes the court will revisit a decision reached in a similar case last year that sided with the superintendent's powers. Schimel agrees with WILL's position on the issue.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Evers declared the DOJ lawyers were "fired." He said in a letter to Schimel that he had asked the Department of Public Instruction's chief legal counsel to represent him.
"You're fired for abusing your power in order to force your right-wing agenda on our public schools. You're fired because, in a democracy, the governor doesn't get to choose his opponents on the ballot or his opponent's lawyers in court," Evers said.
He, along with attorneys Susan Crawford and Lester Pines, argued that DOJ representation in the case would violate the state Supreme Court's rules of professional conduct.
DOJ spokesman Johnny Koremenos said previously that it is not unusual for an agency being represented by DOJ to disagree with the attorney general's position. He accused Evers on Tuesday of trying to "evade the law."
"Whether Superintendent Evers likes it or not, the State of Wisconsin is the actual defendant in this lawsuit, and his personal opinions as to the what the law is or should be will have no bearing on the Attorney General’s power or ethical duty to represent the State. The citizens of this state expect elected officials to carry out the laws passed by the Legislature, not resist them," Koremenos said in an email.