A law firm hired by Republican state lawmakers to help defend them in a redistricting lawsuit can collect up to an $840,000 fee, but taxpayers could end up paying even more, according to a newly released contract.
The lawsuit is part of an ongoing court battle over Wisconsin’s legislative district maps passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and then-Gov. Scott Walker in 2011. Before the latest contract, taxpayers had already paid some $2.5 million to outside law firms to draft and defend the maps in court.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, initially refused to release the latest contract to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in late December, citing an attorney-client privilege exemption in the state’s open records law.
Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council president Bill Lueders said at the time that he believed the denial of the newspaper’s request was illegal.
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Vos’ office decided to waive the attorney-client privilege exemption “in deference to Wisconsin’s historical practice of making such documents accessible to the public,” according to Steve Fawcett, Vos’ legal and policy adviser. Fawcett said the office “reserves the right” not to waive the exception in future open records requests.
On Tuesday, the contract with Chicago law firm Bartlit Beck was released. It states that if a trial happens after Sept. 1, the firm and Legislature will renegotiate what, if any, additional fees would be added.
Any appeal will be charged a separate fee, according to the contract. So will all of the firm’s out-of-pocket fees, such as copying, travel and hiring of consultants.
Attorney General Josh Kaul’s office did not respond to a call and email Tuesday seeking comment on whether the office would provide the legal service to avoid the outside expense to taxpayers.
Bartlit Beck will assist another law firm the Legislature already retained to represent the Legislature in its case.
A panel of federal judges ruled in 2016 that the state’s redistricting map was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander and ordered new districts to be drawn in time for the 2018 election. But the U.S. Supreme Court put the order on hold in June after finding a group of Democratic voters who were plaintiffs in the case lacked standing to sue. The court sent the case back to a lower court for further proceedings.
The case could go before a judicial panel as soon as this spring.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.