Attorney General Josh Kaul has declined to represent Gov. Tony Evers in a legal challenge to controversial laws passed by Republicans last month, citing a conflict because they curtailed his department’s powers.
That has prompted Evers to spend as much as $50,000 to hire private attorneys to represent him in the lawsuit, brought by the League of Women Voters and other groups. It’s the latest twist in the ongoing legal wrangling over the laws, which were passed by GOP lawmakers and signed by former Gov. Scott Walker.
Evers, a Democrat, opposes the laws. But he is named as a defendant in the case because he is now governor.
Responding to Evers’ request for representation in the case, Kaul, a Democrat, wrote back that one of the laws being challenged “contains provisions that reduce the authority of the (Department of Justice).”
“Accordingly, DOJ has a direct and substantial interest in this case that is in conflict with the defense of this case,” Kaul wrote.
Evers in response hired Madison law firm Pines Bach last week to represent him in the ongoing legal dispute.
Disability Rights Wisconsin and Black Leaders Organizing for Communities are the other groups acting as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed in Dane County Circuit Court. It seeks to block implementation of laws passed in the lame-duck session, contending the so-called “extraordinary session” held to pass them is unconstitutional.
Besides Evers, the other defendants in the case are the administrator and commissioners of the state Elections Commission. Spokesman Reid Magney said the commission has requested representation from the DOJ but has not yet heard from the agency or Kaul on whether they will represent the commission.
Tamara Packard, an attorney with Pines Bach, said the firm has not yet arrived at a legal strategy, and added it is not representing the Elections Commission.
“We are still analyzing the legal issues and have not settled on an approach,” Packard said in an email.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, previously said he is confident the GOP’s lame-duck law is constitutional, and expressed doubt at the time that Kaul would adequately defend the law.
According to the Legislative Council, the Legislature’s nonpartisan legal agency, lawmakers have clear authority to hold extraordinary sessions under the Constitution and the schedule they pass at the start of each two-year session.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Republican legislators earlier this month took the first steps to hire private attorneys at taxpayer expense to fight the lawsuit challenging the lame-duck laws.