A Wisconsin judge declared at a hearing on Thursday that the partisan review of the 2020 presidential election pushed by state Republican lawmakers has produced “absolutely no evidence” of voter fraud.
“This whole case has been about trying to shine a light on government,” Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn of the Dane County Circuit Court remarked toward the end of oral arguments in an open-records battle on Thursday.
The watchdog group American Oversight has field multiple lawsuits seeking records about the so-called audit initiated by Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R), who appointed former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to lead it as a special counsel. Both Vos and Gableman have been repeatedly rebuked throughout the litigation, as judges found both in contempt.
Over the course of the litigation, Bailey-Rihn said, what the people have learned about the operations of this review have been illuminating.
“Here, I guess what we found out from this long and tortuous road is that at least for the first part of this investigation, there was no actual work being done. The taxpayers are paying $11,000 for somebody to sit in a New Berlin library to learn about election law because they had no experience in election law,” the judge said, referring to Gableman.
The judge then narrated Gableman’s out-of-state travel chasing election conspiracy theories, including in “Arizona to learn about the Chinese possibly tampering with election machines, which in his own words, was not borne out.”
After traveling to South Dakota the meet with the “MyPillow person” — a reference to CEO, infomercial salesman and Donald Trump booster Mike Lindell — Gableman returned with a COVID-19 positive diagnosis.
“But yet, a week later, he’s at the New Berlin Library writing out a 20-page report that really doesn’t have any thing of substance,” the judge added.
Bailey-Rihn, who ran unopposed in the state’s nonpartisan elections for circuit judges, said that both Democrats and Republicans should care about the fairness of U.S. elections, and this investigation produced nothing that would raise questions about it.
“We have absolutely found out from this case, at least my case, that there was absolutely no evidence of election fraud,” she remarked from the bench. “We have also found out that apparently the Assembly and some of the local leaders of the people of this state believe that they have no obligation to comply with the open records law. They don’t understand it. They don’t follow the Attorney General’s guide on the open records, [the] compliance guide. They leave it to people that they don’t train, and they don’t understand what they’re supposed to do and why. And that’s something that I think the citizens of the state have learned to their detriment.”
The judge awarded attorney’s fees to the watchdog, but she stopped short of punitive damages.
“The only reason why I am not awarding punitive damages is either the people in charge of those are so woefully ignorant of the requirements for the open records law or they were flat out flouting it,” she said. “I don’t know one way or another. I have a suspicion that might be a combination of both.”
Thursday’s proceedings from Dane County Circuit Court were broadcast via Wisconsin Eye, a private, non-profit public affairs network.
[photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images]
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