Political scientist: Gableman contempt charge could harm image

MADISON, Wis. — The $2,000-per-day contempt fine for former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman could taint the image of his investigation of the 2020 election in Wisconsin, according to a political scientist.

“I do think that this latest episode will harm the public image,” said UW-La Crosse professor Anthony Chergosky.

The episode came last week when Gableman, who is investigating the 2020 election on behalf of Assembly Republicans, spoke out against the judge in the case — accusing him of liberal bias.

“Neither facts nor law supported Gableman’s conduct on June 10, 2022,” Dane County Judge Frank Remington wrote in his contempt order this week. “He chose to raise his voice, point his finger, accuse the judge of bias, proclaim he would not be ‘railroaded,’ and refuse to answer any questions. This strategy might work elsewhere, but it has no place in a courtroom.”

For his conduct in court, Remington referred Gableman to the Office of Lawyer Regulation for possible sanction. In addition to that, Gableman incurred a $2,000 per day fine for not turning over documents related to his investigation to a liberal watchdog group.

The group sued for the documents under the state’s open records law, and Gableman was in court to testify why he had not turned over the documents already.

But Gableman’s outburst could have benefits, according to Chergosky.

“This investigation has been unusual because the special counsel [Gableman] has been overwhelmingly communicating with a specific ideological audience,” Chergosky said, speaking of the far-right conservative wing. “I think many in the conservative activist base are going to like what they see from this hearing because it shows that Gableman is a fighter, and shows that he’s willing to stand up.”

“[Assembly Speaker] Robin Vos probably envisioned this investigation as a relatively short endeavor… But now this investigation really has taken on a life of its own as Gableman has cultivated a following among conservative activists,” Chergosky added.

The investigation was supposed to fold in April but was extended while two court cases continue, which will determine Gableman or a future investigator’s subpoena power. Vos, who hired Gableman, said the Assembly would cover the costs of the ongoing litigation, but has not clarified whether that would apply to the fines from the contempt charge. The judge’s order holds Gableman’s office in contempt rather than the man himself.