Legislative Republicans on Thursday asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take up a case against Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul for failing to abide by laws they passed that curbed his authority.
The new lawsuit comes as attorneys were set to file their first briefs in a case before the state Supreme Court brought by unions challenging the so-called “lame-duck” laws Republicans approved in December, after former Republican Gov. Scott Walker lost re-election but before Democratic Gov. Tony Evers assumed office. The suit is the fifth filed so far in the battle over the legislation. Notably, it’s from Republicans instead of Democrats or their allies.
“Attorney General Josh Kaul is taking an unrealistic view of the law and refusing to comply with previous court rulings,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said in a statement.
The controversial laws, which received national outcry, scaled back the authority of Evers and Kaul. Specifically, the laws reduce Kaul’s authority by requiring him to seek the Legislature’s approval before compromising or settling lawsuits. They also require him to deposit settlement funds into the state’s general fund.
While the laws have faced several — and currently ongoing — legal challenges, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has allowed most of their provisions to remain in effect.
But in a series of exchanges with the co-chairs of the Legislature’s budget committee this summer, Kaul outlined a narrow interpretation of the laws allowing him to circumvent several provisions. Republicans are asking the Supreme Court to reject his interpretation, arguing it undermines the intent of the laws they passed.
Kaul in a statement tore into the Legislature’s lawsuit and rejected the notion he has tried to ice out the Legislature.
“This an attempt by the legislature to use vague and poorly-written statutory language to substantially cut the budget for the Department of Justice, undermining public safety in Wisconsin,” he said. “The Legislature is wrong on the law and it is simply incorrect that the Department of Justice has not attempted to involve the Joint Committee on Finance on the resolution of certain cases.”
According to the lawsuit, Kaul so far has deposited no settlement money into the general fund, as Republicans say the law requires.
The lawsuit states Kaul has received $20 million in funds since he took office, but has deposited none of it.
The lawsuit also alleges Kaul has found a way to block the Legislature in many cases from having a seat at the table when he settles lawsuits. The lame duck laws typically require Kaul to seek approval from the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee when settling or dropping lawsuits.
“The Attorney General is effectively nullifying a significant portion of these provisions,” attorney Misha Tseytlin wrote for the Legislature.
The new lawsuit could be combined with the case brought by unions. The Wisconsin Supreme Court this summer sided with the Legislature in another case challenging the lame-duck laws brought by the League of Women Voters.
The suit comes as Republican-backed Brian Hagedorn was sworn in on Thursday as a Supreme Court justice. He replaces liberal-supported Justice Shirley Abrahamson, increasing the court’s conservative majority to 5-2.