The partisan investigator tasked by Wisconsin Republicans with examining the 2020 election in the state could face professional consequences after berating a judge and opposing counsel during a hearing for a public records lawsuit last week.
Michael Gableman, a former state Supreme Court justice and Trump supporter who’s spread multiple falsehoods about the election during the course of his work, has earned a reputation for public displays of rage, as well as misogynistic comments.
Both were on display last Friday, during a hearing over a public records lawsuit by the group American Oversight, when Gableman made sexist comments about the opposing counsel and criticized the judge overseeing the case, Circuit Court Judge Frank Remington of Dane County.
“It is my firm belief that this judge has abandoned his role as a neutral magistrate and is acting as an advocate,” Gableman said at one point in the hearing, seemingly buzzing with anger.
The attorney for Wisconsin’s legislative Republicans went on like this, even pointing at one point to a bailiff and saying, “I see you have a jail officer here. You want to put me in jail, Judge Remington? I’m not gonna be railroaded.” After accusing the court of a “fishing expedition,” he refused to answer further questions, citing his right to avoid self-incrimination.
At the end of the hearing, the judge found Gableman in contempt for not fully complying with his orders regarding Wisconsin public records law, and in a written order on Wednesday, Remington fined Gableman’s office $2,000 for each day that he “continues to intentionally violate that order” and ordered it to pay American Oversight’s costs and fees associated with the bringing the contempt motion.
More than that, though, Remington referred the transcript of Friday’s hearing to Wisconsin’s Office of Lawyer Regulation for “appropriate disciplinary action” for Gableman, writing in the 25-page order that the lawyer for the legislature’s Republicans had displayed “unprofessional” and “demeaning” conduct that discredited his profession.
“The transcript of these events does not tell the whole story,” Remington wrote. “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.”
Later in Friday’s hearing, during a recess, Gableman said on a hot mic that the judge was not “interested in right or wrong” and that “this is his time to shine.” Gableman then mockingly impersonated Remington coaching Christa Westerberg, the attorney representing American Oversight in the case. “Why don’t you come right up to the bench, Ms. Westerberg? Why don’t you come back into my chambers and you can dictate what–” Gableman’s attorney appeared to cut him off, tapping the microphone.
“I know. I don’t care. It’s the truth,” Gableman sneered.
“The circus Gableman created in the courtroom destroyed any sense of decorum and irreparably damaged the public’s perception of the judicial process,” Remington wrote, noting that “Gableman made sure opposing counsel heard his every word.”
“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 judge added. “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 wrote that it seemed Gableman intended to use his appearance Friday to distract from his failure to follow the court’s order in the public records case. And in a footnote, the judge went further, invoking the recent killing of a retired Wisconsin judge by a man who the judge had previously sentenced, and quoting threats aimed at himself, including, that Remington had “better watch my back” or “I hope the judge has a gun.”
Remington laid responsibility for the threats at Gableman’s feet, writing that they were “the effect of Gableman’s unfounded accusation that I am biased and that I am an advocate for American Oversight.”
“That these threats originate with the statements of a retired judge is the saddest part of this whole experience,” he added.
Remington said that he would ignore the “personal insult,” but that “the Court cannot ignore Gableman’s disruptive conduct and misogynistic comments about a fellow lawyer.” In addition to the contempt fines and fees, he ordered the clerk of courts to forward the decision and the transcript of Friday’s hearing to the Office of Lawyer Regulation.
“We hope this decision will finally compel Mr. Gableman and the Office of Special Counsel to comply with Wisconsin law and the court’s orders, stop blocking transparency, and release all the records of their biased work to the public,” American Oversight’s chief counsel, Dan Schwager, said in a statement Wednesday.
“It is increasingly clear that this unprofessional ‘investigation’ is little more than a charade intended to prop up former President Trump’s dangerously false claims of election fraud, and after spending nearly a million dollars of taxpayer money, the people of Wisconsin deserve all the facts.”