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Judge dismisses liberal watchdog's claims that Wisconsin impeachment panel violated open meeting law

Janet Protasiewicz
Posted at 2:57 PM, Nov 29, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-29 15:57:55-05

MADISON (AP) — A judge dismissed on Tuesday a liberal watchdog group's claims that a panel researching the possible impeachment of a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice violated the state's open meeting laws.

Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington wrote in his ruling that American Oversight filed its claims prematurely and should have given District Attorney Ismael Ozanne more time to decide whether to launch his own lawsuit. Remington allowed the group to continue seeking records from the panel, however.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos asked former state Supreme Court justices David Prosser, Pat Roggensack and Jon Wilcox in September to advise on whether impeaching current Justice Janet Protasiewicz would be justified.

Protasiewicz is a member of the court's four-justice liberal majority. Republicans are furious with her after she declared on the campaign trail last year that the Legislature's GOP-drawn district boundaries are “rigged.” The high court is currently considering a challenge to the boundaries that could force lawmakers to redraw the maps ahead of the 2024 elections, potentially costing Republicans legislative seats next session. The GOP argues Protasiewicz's campaign remarks indicate she has prejudged the case.

Prosser and Wilcox both advised Vos in October that Protasiewicz's campaign remarks don't rise to an impeachable offense. It's unclear where Roggensack stands; she has not responded to messages.

American Oversight asked Ozanne to investigate whether the justices were working as a government entity and as such had violated the state's open meetings law by operating in secret. Five days after filing the request the group filed a lawsuit alleging the justices violated the law and demanding records related to their work.

Vos filed a motion to dismiss the open meeting violation claims, arguing that under state law American Oversight had to give Ozanne 20 days to refuse or fail to launch an investigation. Ozanne did neither, according to court documents.

Remington wrote in his ruling Tuesday that the panel of former justices was a governmental body created by order of the Assembly speaker and nobody disputes that the panel met in secret. But American Oversight failed to give Ozanne the time allotted under law to refuse to investigate and therefore was barred from filing a lawsuit, Remington found.

The ruling leaves intact the group's record demands. Vos, Prosser and Wilcox have turned over thousands of pages of documents so far. Remington on Nov. 10 gave Roggensack 30 days to produce her records.

American Oversight Executive Director Heather Sawyer said in a statement that despite Remington's ruling Tuesday the lawsuit still resulted in documents getting released to the public “that otherwise might have remained shrouded in darkness.”

As for the open meeting claims, she said the group will be considering appellate options.