A former state supreme court justice who is a frequent critic of Wisconsin’s 2020 election procedures was heavily criticized by a county judge in the Badger State after a recent courtroom performance. Michael Gableman, the former justice, is said to have disrupted court proceedings and made “misogynistic” comments about a female attorney.
Gableman was hired by Republican state legislators in Wisconsin to lead an investigation into the integrity of the 2020 presidential election. Gableman himself claimed the election was stolen.
Gableman’s current office — that of special counsel to the legislature — is being sued by a non-profit organization, American Oversight, which claims Gableman failed to adequately respond to public records requests. Gableman and his attorneys have vacillated between providing some documents, admittedly destroying others, and claiming that everything requested has already been provided, according to the lawsuit.
Last week, Gableman was held in contempt in a bench ruling by Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington for failing to abide by a prior court order demanding compliance with those document production requests, Milwaukee FOX affiliate WITI reported.
Remington, however, held off on prescribing the precise punishment for Gableman’s contempt of court until a written order was issued.
That Wednesday order spares very little.
“Gableman is an attorney licensed to practice in this state,” the judge wrote. “Under Wisconsin law, and consistent with the dignity of the profession of law and the attorney’s sworn oath, an attorney is expected to comport himself honorably; with respect for the court and courtesy to fellow attorneys. These expectations have not been met.”
During a June 10, 2022 hearing on American Oversight’s open records case and contempt allegations, Gableman was the lone witness called to testify from the office of special counsel – the same office he leads. Gableman had the opportunity to present evidence that his office had, despite the group’s claims, complied with their requests.
Instead, Remington notes in his order, Gableman “invoked his Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself.” But that’s not all. The court then recounted how questioning began at the hearing:
When called as a witness pursuant to a lawful subpoena, the only question Gableman answered was to state his name. Rather than answer the next question, to confirm he is the president of Consultare, LLC, Gableman launched into an irrelevant diatribe about how and when he was served with process. The Court sustained the objection to his statements as unresponsive. Undaunted, Gableman turned to face the Court and accused me of “abandon[ing my] role as a neutral magistrate” and of “acting as an advocate.” He made these comments on “advice of counsel,” despite earlier stating he had no counsel, and then he segued into a complaint about how “Meagan Wolfe, the executive director of the Wisconsin Election Commission, successfully resisted [his] subpoena in a Madison courtroom based on personal constitutional rights.”
According to the opinion, Gableman then accused Remington of bias again by alleging that the presiding judge was working “as an advocate” for American Oversight.
He also made made the banal observation that a bailiff was in attendance and “taunted” Remington, the order notes, by referring to the bailiff’s presence, saying: “I see you have a jail officer here. You want to put me in jail, Judge Remington? I’m not gonna be railroaded.”
The court addresses this incident in a footnote:
In the Dane County Circuit Court, like many other courts, a bailiff appears at in-person hearings. This hearing was no exception. The only plausible explanation for Gableman’s outburst is that Gableman believed the theatrics of a special appearance by a “jail officer,” whatever that is, would somehow engender sympathy to him.
“The transcript of these events does not tell the whole story,” Remington continues in the body of the order. “It does not show Gableman’s raised voice, his accusatory tone and his twisted facial expression. It does not show that as he spoke, he pointed and shook his finger at the judge.”
Still, that wasn’t quite all that happened at the hearing. During a recess, Gableman is said in the order to have mocked Remington in a recorded conversation on the court’s microphone for allegedly courting the spotlight. Gableman apparently said the hearing was “what passes for success for him.”
After being made aware he was being recorded, the order says the former state supreme court jurist continued mocking the judge – as well as American Oversight attorney Christa Westerberg.
“That’s what you are saying, right, Ms. Westerberg?” Gableman said, miming Remington. “Oh yes. Why don’t you come right up to the bench, Ms. Westerberg? Why – why don’t you come back into my chambers so you can dictate what – ”
“Gableman’s conduct was an affront to the judicial process and an insult to Atty. Westerberg, by their very suggestion that she is not capable of litigating without the help of the judge,” the order says. “The sophomoric innuendo about Atty. Westerberg coming back to chambers is a sad reminder that in 2022, woman lawyers still have to do more than be excellent at their job.”
Remington goes on to accuse Gableman of violating “numerous” professional rules of conduct for Wisconsin attorneys.
“In the end, it was readily apparent that Gableman intended to use his appearance to distract from [his office’s] failure to follow the Court’s order, and perhaps to direct attention away from his office’s illegal records practices,” the order says. “The Court will ignore the personal insult. However, the Court cannot ignore Gableman’s disruptive conduct and misogynistic comments about a fellow lawyer. All lawyers are obligated to report this form of professional misconduct.”
For the contempt finding, Gableman’s office is being fined $2,000 per day until they comply with the records requests. For his personal courtroom outbursts and offensive comments about Westerberg, Gableman has been referred to Wisconsin’s Office of Lawyer Regulation.
Read Judge Remington’s full order below:
[image via screengrab/WISN]
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